Robert Cornegy Jr., a former councilmember for the 36th district, has joined a team of entertainment bigwigs in their bid to win a license to build a new casino in Coney Island.
The state is preparing to issue a batch of new casino licenses in downstate New York, and Coney local Joe Sitt, who owns part of the peninsula’s entertainment district, is leading the charge to bring one to the People’s Playground through his development company Thor Equities. Working together with Saratoga Casino Holdings, the Chickasaw Nation, and Legends, Thor is preparing their application — now with help from the former politician.
An “economic driver” for Coney Island
According to Cornegy, who represented Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights in the city council from 2014 to 2022, there has been decades worth of disinvestment in the Coney community, and a new entertainment spot could be an “economic driver” for the nabe, which relies heavily on summertime tourist traffic to support the local economy.
“I get to put passion where my mouth is and do something epic by bringing economic stability to Coney Island,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “This is one of those projects that I am proud to be on because it takes a seasonal community and turns it into a year-round economic development.”
Since joining the pro-casino team, he has met with storefront owners from the area to better learn about the community’s needs. Their proposal looks to tie local businesses to the facility, rather than bringing in chain restaurants or shops — solving an issue of “economic isolation,” according to Cornegy.
“This project represents Brooklyn’s next big moment, and I can’t think of a better place for a world-class entertainment venue than right here in Coney Island,” he said. “We have such a vibrant group of locally-owned businesses that have been calling out for a year-round economic driver, and I am looking forward to working with our community to help show the state that Brooklyn is ready for this venture.”
Cornegy has worked on other lucrative initiatives including the Chamber on the Go program, which provides a wide array of mobile support services to small shops. He also served as chair of the city council’s committees on Small Business and Housing and Buildings; as well as the Minority-and-Women-Owned Business Enterprise Task Force. In his opinion, the potential tourist attraction should viewed as a “revitalization project” that could bring financial stability to the neighborhood.
Randy Peers, president and CEO for Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, says this approach will distinguish Coney Island bidders from larger corporations who are used to dealing with chains — strengthening their proposition.
“I think the goal here is to ensure that the retail represents Brooklyn and it represents our diversity and the amazing cultural attributes of Brooklyn,” Peers said. “That’s what I think it should be about. I think the team is very deliberate and very sincere when they say they want to go local.”
Some locals not convinced by casino proposal
While supporters — including Mayor Eric Adams, who has said he would like at least two casinos to open in the city — say the project would create jobs and boost the nabe, some locals and politicians are skeptical. Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny told Brooklyn Paper’s sister site amNY last year that he would support the proposal only if the developers agreed to a long list of community benefits like repairs to the Coney Island boardwalk and a full cleanup of the sludgy Coney Island Creek. Former state Senator Diane Savino said she thought the team was in for a lot of pushback from the community, especially given the lack of infrastructure for year-round residents.
“The people in Coney Island are very sensitive to the fact that six months out of the year, the whole world considers it its playground and six months out of the year, it can be quite lonely,” Savino told amNY. “And what are they going to get out of it?”
The casino is still in preliminary stages as bidders prepare their plans and request for the required license applications.
“I believe we still got a lot of work to do and going to every corner and turning over every stone is something that I’m committed to,” Cornegy said.