City Hall wants to kill a $1.5-billion plan to turn Coney Island into a fantasyland of hotels, amusements and rides — but down on the boardwalk, at least one ride operator is singing a different tune.
“Stranger things have happened than a hotel atrium built around a Ferris wheel,” said Dennis Vourderis, owner of Coney’s landmarked Wonder Wheel ride and operator of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, most of which was recently sold to embattled Coney developer Joe Sitt by Vourderis’ landlord Jack Ward.
Vourderis retains a 13-year lease to the boardwalk park, but he told The Brooklyn Paper that he would consider selling his lease for the chance to build a Wonder Wheel hotel.
“With creativity and a lot of money, it could be awesome,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Bloomberg administration is reportedly considering a land swap with Sitt that would give the city rights over Deno’s and the adjacent 10 acres of Sitt-owned land in exchange for land a few blocks west of the amusement district, adjacent to Keyspan Park.
Sitt would get Keyspan’s parking lot and the Abe Stark ice skating rink in the land swap, according to the New York Post.
But if the exchange goes through, Vourderis may be left spinning his wheel towards another plan.
City officials have said repeatedly that they oppose rezoning the heart of the amusement district — bordered by Surf Avenue, the boardwalk, Stillwell Avenue and West Fifth Street — for hotels, time-shares or condos. Such uses are not “appropriate for the amusement district,” Janel Patterson, spokeswoman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation said this week.
Vourderis and his brother Steve bought Wonder Wheel Park in 1983 from Freddy Garms, whose father designed its namesake ride and forged its 150-foot-high frame in steel on the boardwalk-front site. “We bought this place because we love showing people a good time,” Vourderis said.
Vourderis’ landlord, Jack Ward, has sold his 80,000-square-foot property to Sitt for $11 million, according to Vourderis. Ward did not return phone calls from The Brooklyn Paper.
The Wonder Wheel operator said that while his immediate concern was to keep his popular kid-friendly rides in motion and to maintain Coney’s freak-friendly character, “we’ll do what we have to do to stay competitive.”
Up the block from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and across Surf Avenue from Nathan’s Famous, an old Coney dreamer has been holding onto the pedestrian thoroughfare’s grandest structure — the long-vacant flapper-era Shore Theater.
With Sitt just around the corner, Horace Bullard believes that his French Renaissance-style movie palace, formerly the Loews Coney Island, will be worth millions more to any potential tenant worth the sea-salt in Coney’s air.
“If hotels are coming, then I’ll put a tower up the back of my building,” said Bullard, the flamboyant founder of the Kansas Fried Chicken chain, which had a restaurant on the ground floor of the building for many years.
Bullard bought the ornate theater — then falling apart and being used as a bingo hall — in 1978, as he was acquiring land to build a multi-million dollar amusement park on the former site of Coney’s famous Steeplechase Park, a plan that died a few years later. He owned the Thunderbolt roller coaster, which the city considered a dangerous eyesore. The Thunderbolt was demolished during construction of Keyspan Park next door, in 2000.
By the early-1980s, the 2,387-seat theater was gutted, with even Bullard’s Kansas Fried Chicken closing a few years later. He is now working on a renovation of the faÃƒÂ§ade, he said.
In March, Bullard sold to Sitt a piece of property closer to the ocean for $13 million, according to city records. The developer hasn’t asked him for a price on his crumbling movie palace, he said.
“We’re not rivals exactly,” he said, referring to Sitt. “We’re all just waiting to see what the city will decide.”