Coney Island lawmaker renews calls for amusement park reopening guidelines

coney Island amusement parks
Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel.
Photo by Todd Maisel

A southern Brooklyn lawmaker is demanding that the state issue reopening guidelines for the Coney Island amusement parks, whose year-long closure has dealt a tough blow to the local economy. 

“It is imperative that the State issue guidance and protocols immediately on how to safely reopen outdoor amusements for the 2021 season, which would begin on Palm Sunday, March 28, less than three months from today,” wrote Councilman Mark Treyger in a Jan. 13 letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

Outdoor amusement parks across the state have remained closed since the start of the pandemic — even as some indoor amusements, such as bowling alleys and some movie theaters, were allowed to reopen last summer. 

The closures devastated Coney Island’s already precarious economy, causing an estimated $100 million loss in revenue and nixing 2,000 seasonal jobs, according to Alexandra Silversmith, the director of the economic development group the Coney Island Alliance. If the closures continue through 2021, the area may not be able to recover, Silversmith said.

“If they’re not allowed to open, I don’t know what the future would hold if we lose another season in Coney Island,” she said. “It’s a scary thought at this point.”

By issuing reopening guidelines now, the state would give hope to businesses across the People’s Playground and allow the amusement district ample time to prepare for opening day, park owners said. Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park typically open on Palm Sunday in late March, and each park needs about one month to hire workers and get the rides up to snuff.

“[Reopening guidelines] would be a huge milestone for us,” said Alessandro Zamperla, who runs Luna Park with his wife, Tracee. “We could really have something concrete, and we can say, ‘Okay, these are the parameters that would allow us to operate.'”

In addition to the guidelines, Treyger asked the state to grant financial relief to the struggling parks — which have received no state funding for the entirety of the pandemic, despite their repeated calls for aid.

For example, the state could pass legislation that would require insurance companies to pay out business interruption insurance, the pol argued. Insurance companies have refused to pay out for COVID-19 closures, leaving companies like Luna Park in the dust, Zamperla said.

At the moment we haven’t been able to meet or process claims, so that would be very helpful,” he explained. 

The state must also allow businesses with more than 100 employees to be eligible for funding while prioritizing giving state grants to businesses that have been closed the longest and crafting a relief and recovery plan specifically for southern Brooklyn, Treyger wrote in his letter.

“The future of the Coney Island amusement district remains uncertain until emergency assistance is provided,” he said.

Silversmith added that some sort of property tax break would help the parks and other local businesses stay afloat.

“A lot of the initial freakout was about rent, and now some of the tenants are telling me, ‘The reason my landlord is asking for this much rent is because their property taxes went up.'”

Despite the need for aid, the amusement parks’ owners remained optimistic that they’ll make it through the upcoming season.

“We’re ready to submit our applications for our additional PPP funding, and we’re waiting on answers for other loans to come through,” said Dennis Vourderis, who runs Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. “We are positive and hopeful that we’ll be able to come out above water.”

Both parks will debut exciting new rides when they’re allowed to open. Deno’s will unveil a custom-made 68-foot-tall rollercoaster, which is set to be completed by late March, and Luna Park will open a new kid-friendly section with six rides. 

I think another amusement park for families that have been in apartments will be a nice way to spend some time after a long and cold and very dark winter,” Zamperla said. 

Both owners said they have been in touch regularly with the governor’s office, and hope to see some reopening guidelines issued soon.

The governor’s office had been responsive. They’ve been great, and we remain hopeful and optimistic that we’ll be able to open this summer,” Vourderis said.