Mega-developer Joe Sitt says that Coney Island businesspeople and residents responded “Go, Joe, go” when shown his revamped plan to transform the area’s beleaguered amusement area — but Coney civic and business leaders are actually saying, “No, Joe, no.”
Sitt bubbled with enthusiasm on the famed Boardwalk on Monday as he announced that he had removed the most-controversial element of his $1.5-billion Coney makeover, the 600 units of oceanfront luxury housing that only six months ago he said were needed to provide enough revenue to build water slides, movie theaters, arcades, a new roller coaster and a two-tiered carousel.
Now the plan calls for three hotels that would be set back from the Boardwalk. One of the hotels would be a 400 residence-style lodging that would be rented out on a weekly, time-share basis, Sitt said.
Why the change of heart, Sitt was asked.
“We heard the community,” he said. “We should have reached out [earlier]. The people said ‘no’ to condos in Coney Island, so we responded.”
Sitt told the media that even Carol Albert, who sold her Astroland amusement park to Sitt last year, but has been critical of his condo-and-amusement plan, gushed over his trio of hotels.
“I just came from a meeting with her and she said, ‘That was always my dream, too.’ Now that we’ve dropped the condos, everyone in Coney Island is saying, ‘Go, Joe, go!’”
Actually, Albert and others are saying, “No, Joe, no.”
“We have no idea why he said Carol supports him, because she definitely has reservations,” Albert said through her spokesman, Joe Carella.
Later, Albert told The Brooklyn Paper, “I’m reserving judgment until I see an actual plan. I’m just not convinced yet that Joe’s plan will truly preserve the Coney Island amusement area.”
Others were less diplomatic. When told that Sitt had stood on the Boardwalk and said that he had the strong backing of the area’s principal players, Community Board 13 District Manager Chuck Reichenthal spat out a barnyard ephithet.
“It’s bulls—t,” he said. “We all had a look at his latest update on Monday and, yes, it’s better. But no one said we are 100 percent in favor of it.”
Beyond the local businesspeople, Sitt also has to win over city officials, who hold the key to a zoning change that Sitt needs before he can build hotels in the area between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk that is currently zoned only for amusements.
City officials did not return The Brooklyn Paper’s repeated calls this week, but Economic Development Corporation President Robert Lieber told the New York Times that Sitt’s new plan was merely a “wolf dressed up as a sheep.”
Mostly, Lieber said, the city was just as concerned as local leaders that Sitt’s residential plans — whether hotel or condo units — do not jibe with the noisy, dirty, honky-tonk spirit that Coney Island wears like a badge of honor.
Sitt’s spokesman refused to comment on the city’s apprehension, seeking common ground instead of conflict.
“Look, people are cautious and we don’t blame them,” said the spokesman, Lee Silberstein. “But the mood in the room — OK, it was our construction trailer — was ‘We’re with you, we support you, let’s get this done.’ Everyone doesn’t love every inch of it, but not single objection was raised.
“The bottom line,” Silberstein added, “is that there is absolute agreement that Coney Island has hit bottom and it is only going to take something bold and massive to resurrect it. Are there differences on the precise way to do it? Yes, but there is absolute agreement on the need for change.”
Sitt’s biggest problem in Coney Island is not audacity, vision or money. It’s trust. Throughout the amusement area — where Sitt has bought up most of the land, including the ground underneath the fabled Astroland amusement park — few believe that Sitt won’t someday convert one of those fancy high-rise hotels into the very condos he claims he no longer plans to build.
“The general feeling here is that he’ll build the hotels and once they fail to make money, he’ll convert them to condos,” said one insider, who refused to be quoted by name.
“Or he’s just planning to flip the property to someone else and walk away with a huge profit. How did he buy so much land knowing that he needed a zoning change? Was he just playing chicken with the city? That’s why people are skeptical.”
Others just questioned Sitt’s sanitized vision of a glitzy, Vegas-style theme park.
“I wish he could just leave the mom and pop stores so the Boardwalk can stay the way it is,” said Tony Nastro, a member of the Polar Bear Club, who didn’t seem to be enjoying himself in Monday’s heat.
“If places like Ruby’s on the Boardwalk gets closed down, then it’s not really Coney Island anymore, is it?”
But Sitt begged locals for patience and trust.
“We’re going to build whatever the city wants,” he said.
When asked why businesspeople along the Boardwalk — so recently the target of Sitt’s eviction efforts — should trush him, Sitt added, “I’m a Brooklyn guy — I live close by. This project is close to my heart. I want this to be a place for my kids and grandkids.”
Developer Joe Sitt will publicly unveil his vision for Coney Island for the first time at a neighborhood meeting on Tuesday, June 26, at the United Community Baptist Church (2701 Mermaid Ave., at W. 27th Street, in Coney Island), 7 pm. Call (212) 889-0808 for information.