It’s tempting to see Tuesday’s announcement of new rides this summer to Coney Island as the culmination of a decades-long effort to revitalize the area’s internationally known amusement core.
Indeed, most of the media coverage of the unveiling of 19 temporary, trucked-in rides suggested that Mayor Bloomberg had finally saved Coney Island.
Forgive us if we’re skeptical of yet another bit of ballyhoo from yet another carny barker. The real work — the hard work, that is — of “saving” Coney Island is many years and hundreds of millions of dollars away.
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This page was long critical of the Bloomberg Administration’s approach to Coney Island, disagreeing with the need to buy privately owned land — at a cost of close to $110 million in taxpayer money — when the area’s main landowner had his own plan for an all-year Xanadu of rides, retail, indoor attractions and hotels.
But now that the city has committed to the project by buying up those parcels, the Bloomberg Administration is fully accountable for its long-term vision.
And therein lies the problem.
Even under the best-case scenario, Coney Island’s permanent amusement revitalization is more than a decade away. Indeed, what was initially thought of as a two- or three-year interim lease on the former Astroland site is actually a 10-year contract for Central Amusement International, the same company that runs the popular — though seasonal — Victorian Gardens theme park in Central Park every summer.
Bloomberg, however, is in his (dare we say it?) final term as mayor, meaning that his successor will actually be charged with implementing the mayor’s grand and very expensive plan to restore Coney Island to a luster not seen since before the wars. And despite all the local officials’ optimism, it is very much unclear whether any amount of public money can bring back — or should even try to bring back — a magic that has been evaporating since the advent of low-cost jet travel and higher-tech entertainment options.
Of course, we wish Central Amusement International the best for this summer. The company’s rides will no doubt bring a great deal of excitement to the beach — though not, as the history-challenged mayor said on Tuesday, make it “more fun than ever” (emphasis added).
But after the crowds from the next three summers have gone and the rides have been stored away for the season, the next mayor will have to follow through on this mayor’s promises. Count us as very skeptical.