Coney Island’s amusement district came riding back triumphantly from Hurricane Sandy on March 24 — though a demonstration by neighborhood residents showed that storm clouds still linger over much of the peninsula.
Thousands lined up to ride on the iconic 80-plus-year-old Cyclone rollercoaster and Wonder Wheel, which both sustained only minor damage in the storm, while a few dozen came out to protest still-shuttered community centers and limited neighborhood amenities in the surrounding area.
Valerio Ferrari, president of Central Amusements International — the company that operates the Cyclone and Luna Park — said that the big opening day reflected a collective effort to rise above Sandy’s floodwaters.
“Many in the Coney Island area were affected by Hurricane Sandy and we, along with our great community have spent the past few months recovering and rebuilding our home,” says Valerio Ferrari, adding that his company would roll out new amusements in the coming months.
But Ed Cosme, founder of the People’s Coalition of Coney Island, said his group’s rally was necessary to draw attention to the ongoing problems in the larger Coney community.
“We weren’t trying to take anything away from the amusements. It’s their day to celebrate, but there are more immediate needs in our neighborhoods,” Cosme said.
Cosme said the Coalition protest attracted the attention of city leaders attending the opening ceremonies, and that he hopes to meet with officials in the weeks to come.
But there was also a bonding of amusements and community on Sunday, at Wonder Wheel Park, where 300 Coney kids from the Salt and Sea Mission youth program got to go on the rides for free as part of a 25-year-old tradition. Salt and Sea Pastor Debbe Santiago — who also performed her annual “blessing of the rides” —said she was glad to see the legendary wheel still turning, and children from the area still climbing on board.
“It was a big milestone, a quarter century that Deno’s Wonder Wheel has been doing this for the kids in the community, and it’s great. And it’s especially important after all the devastation,” said Santiago, whose mission will soon move into a new space near the corner of Neptune and Stillwell avenues after losing their longtime location at the corner of Mermaid Avenue and W. 16th Street last month.