Final curtain: Shore Theater will re-open as hotel and spa — not entertainment venue

Final curtain: Shore Theater will re-open as hotel and spa — not entertainment venue
Photo by Steve Solomonson

They’re bringing down the curtain on the Shore Theater.

The developers who purchased Coney Island’s landmarked Shore Theater for $14 million in 2016 will abandon their original promise to restore the 90-year-old building to its former glory as a playhouse, instead converting it into a hotel and spa, with ground-floor retail, according to plans filed with the Department of Buildings.

The unofficial “Mayor of Coney Island” — who led the successful charge to landmark the building’s exterior in 2010 — said that he wished the restored building would include a theater space, but he is nonetheless glad the long-derelict building will be revived.

“My attitude is, the building was falling apart, and I’m thrilled that they are there restoring a landmark building,” said Dick Zigun, who’s also the founder of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. “I wish that they were restoring the theater as a theater, but there is no legal way to require them to do that.”

The plans filed by Pye Properties show that the estimated $60-million renovation to the seven-story property at Surf and Stillwell avenues will culminate in a hotel, spa, bathhouse, and retail space. The developer’s director of operations, Eduard Yadgarov, told New York 1 that they plan to turn the space a 50-room boutique hotel, adding that they also envision adding a banquet space, rooftop restaurant and lounge, and ground-floor café — though none of those elements were listed in the plans filed with the city.

This paper previously reported that the developers were also floating the ideas of adding a rooftop pool; wooing the local Community Board 13 to move their offices there from the next block, where they currently sit above a strip club and next to the elevated train; and targeting national-level tenants, including Starbucks Coffee and clothing retailer TJ Maxx. But reps for the developer did not respond to repeated inquiries about plans for the property by press time.

The developers expect the hotel will open in 2021, according to the New York 1 report.

The theater has a storied history. It was built in 1925 as the Loew’s Coney Island, and hosted Vaudeville acts in its heyday. The Brandt Company took it over in 1964, and the theater started showing X-rated movies in 1972 in a last-ditch attempt to lure audiences. Kansas Fried Chicken mogul Horace Bullard purchased the property in 1978 hoping to convert it into a hotel and casino, but the state decided against allowing gambling in the People’s Playground. The land baron then put the building up for sale and let it sit derelict for the next several decades, drawing criticism from Coney Island advocates as the structure deteriorated and became an encampment of homeless people. Bullard died in 2013, and a 2015 announcement that the city would scoop up other derelict Coney Island properties that passed to his family reignited calls to seize the property through eminent domain before it was eventually sold to developers in 2016.

But Zigun said the revamped property bodes well for the amusement area’s future, insisting that the hotel and retail space will help drive more tourism and business to the area — which could create enough foot traffic to justify eventually adding another theater to another part of the neighborhood, he said.

“Even though I’m a theater person and I wish the theater was put back as a theater, it doesn’t matter — a prosperous Coney Island will build another theater,” Zigun said. “In order to fill a theater year-round, you need tourists year-round, and we don’t have that yet.”

Reps from the city Landmarks Preservation Commission did not respond to an inquiry by press time.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.