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Coney residents slam Marty’s Childs Building plan

Beep’s Childs play: Old Coney relic will become new amphitheater
On the Boardwalk: Borough President Markowitz wants to turn the shuttered Childs Restaurant building and an adjoining lot into his passion project: a Coney Island amphitheater.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Looks like getting Borough President Markowitz’s latest amphitheater plan built won’t be Childs play after all.

Coney residents blasted the Beep’s dreams of converting the landmarked Childs Building into a home for his summer concert series at a Sept. 17 hearing at Borough Hall, complaining that the plan will clog the streets and deafen neighbors, while doing nothing to uplift the depressed neighborhood.

Marty’s vision involves knocking a hole in the wall of the 90-year-old former restaurant on W. 21st Street, and installing a stage inside. The city-owned parcel next door would become a semi-circular seating bowl with a capacity of 5,100.

Designers said that the special tent covering the concert space would keep the volume of 40 summertime rock shows from disturbing the locals. But that claim was met with skepticism by members of the People’s Coalition of Coney Island.

“Nobody in creation can convince me that a fabric can control the noise that is going to permeate the entire area,” said Seagate resident Carol DeMartino.

Other group members argued that traffic headed to the amphitheater would strangle the streets — which are already strained from cars headed for the amusement parks and Cyclones games at MCU Park.

“We live on a peninsula! We’ve got a baseball field here, we got the rides there. How are we going to have 5,000 more seats?” said People’s Playground resident Sheila Smalls. “We won’t be able to get in and out of our own neighborhood.”

Still others called for a written community benefits agreement — a contract guaranteeing well-paid, full-time, year-round jobs to residents, along with regular public access to the building, which will feature a high-end restaurant inside and on the roof. Members claimed that without such an agreement Coney Islanders would receive nothing but part-time, minimum-wage service jobs, and would never get to set foot inside of the new venue.

“When these kinds of constructions come up in communities like ours, we get taken advantage of,” said Ann Valdez, a lifelong Coney resident.

Earlier this year, the People’s Coalition of Coney Island controversially claimed the post-Sandy recovery efforts has unfairly focused on amusements at the expense of year-round residents

A spokesman for Markowitz present at the hearing declined to comment. But a representative for iStar Financial, the company that currently owns the Childs Building — and which has agreed to sell the structure to the city and transform it into the amphitheater for $50 million in taxpayer money — said that the project would be a huge boost to the local real estate market.

“We see this as an economic jumpstart to development,” said iStar attorney Howard Weiss.

Weiss noted that iStar — which will lease the amphitheater from the city and operate it at a profit until 2025 — owns 70 percent of the developable land nearby. The zoning laws the city passed in 2009 allow for those mostly vacant properties to become condos and residential towers.

Markowitz’s proposal will also convert the now-empty lots on either side of W. 22nd Street into a public greenspace with lush lawns, winding paths, gardens, playground equipment, privately run concessions, and seating areas.

The Zoning and Land Use committee of Coney Island’s Community Board 13 has asked the city to study the amphitheater’s potential impact on parking, and to investigate the possibility of a shuttle bus to the new facility. The neighborhood panel also asked for iStar to hire Coney residents to help build and run the concert space and restaurant.

This is not the first time that Marty’s dream of a permanent structure to house his seaside concerts has hit a sour note with locals. Markowitz tried — and failed — to construct an amphitheater inside Brighton Beach’s Asser Levy Park in 2009. Public protest blocked the structure — which was widely mocked for resembling a potato chip. And in April of this year, neighbors using the lot alongside the Childs Building as a community garden protested the Beep’s plan to plow under the fruits of their labor to construct amphitheater seating.

Markowitz pitched the Childs Building as the perfect spot to shelter his oceanside shows at his 2013 State of the Borough address in April.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him attwitter.com/WillBredderman.
No kidding: Residents attacked the plan to turn the Childs Building into an amphitheater, fearing noise, crowds, and crap jobs.
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