Happy to keep Sitt out – Ward family deals land to city to keep amusements alive

The family that recently sold a key acre in Coney Island to the city for $11 million said they are relieved that developer Joe Sitt did not buy the property.

The acre currently houses the kiddie ride portion of Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. The Vourderis family has a lease on the property until 2020.

The Vourderis family also owns and operates Deno’s Wonder Wheel.

“Without a doubt, it was hard to let go, but you either do that or it will die on the vine,” said Chris McGratty, 65, grandson of Coney Island pioneer William Ward.

The Ward family has owned the acre and havebeen Coney Island property owners since the 1870s.

McGratty, who now lives in Texas, said Sitt and his company, Thor Equities, had the same $11 million deal under contract, but eventually walked away from it.

“Sitt owns land all around us and it was difficult watching what happened, but in terms of fiduciary duty for the family his offer couldn’t be ignored,” said McGratty. “When the city said they would keep it in the amusement zone, the entire family was ecstatic.”

“The closing is in October 2009, and I have no reason to believe the city won’t close. This was a keystone property in Sitt’s assemblage. The city got a steal in terms of value in it,” McGratty said.

Sitt did not return several calls for comment on the matter.

The acre is located within the nine-acre area the city has designated to be mapped as parkland under its comprehensive rezoning plan for the area.

Ultimately, the parkland will establish a base for developing new year-round indoor and outdoor amusement uses, while still maintaining Coney Island’s unique character under the plan.

With the acquisition of the Ward site, the city now owns about four of the nine acres it wants as designated parkland for the amusement district.

The deal is the first the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) expects to be in a series of land acquisitions in the coming months.

“This important deal brings us one step closer to our twin goals of maintaining what is best about Coney Island, while simultaneously building a vibrant, modern mixed-use community,” said EDC President Seth W. Pinsky.

Dennis Vourderis hailed the sale as a good thing in that it helps prevent the kiddie portion of the park from closing.

“We have a new landlord and we’re delighted that the city has chosen to purchase this property,” said Vourderis.

“It’s the best piece of property as far as I’m concerned. It’s not the crown jewel as that would be the Wonder Wheel, but it’s a good thing and protects the amusements and our lease for the next 12 years,” he added.

But for McGratty, the sale was bittersweet.

“Originally, we had significantly more than an acre including The Half Moon Hotel where Abe Reles, the guy who turned state’s evidence against Murder Inc. in the 1930s, somehow fell out the window under police protection,” said McGratty.

“All my siblings, whatever generation, we all had great times at Coney Island. I remember the Parachute Jump, which I was on dozens of times. It scared the bejeezus out of me,” he added.