The principal opponent of the city’s plan to revitalize Coney Island was booed down at a public meeting on Monday night, prompting city officials to cut off the blustery politician mid-speech.
State Sen. Carl Kruger (D–Brighton Beach) was the first in a parade of Brooklynites to come to the mic at a boisterous “public information session” at Lincoln HS, but he was the only one shouted down by the crowd.
Kruger later told The Brooklyn Paper that his opposition to the plan was based upon its unfeasibility.
“It’s like so many concepts that the Bloomberg administration has put forward,” said Kruger. “Why are we going through all of these gyrations of advancing a plan, getting people’s hopes and aspirations up, creating a firestorm of controversy, instead of just advancing a simpler solution?”
The majority of the dozens of speakers did not share Kruger’s contention that Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for the People’s Playground represented “a crime committed on our community.”
Rather, they expressed a tepid hope that the city’s plan represents the best chance for the long-suffering amusement area to finally get back on track.
“I’ve lived in the area for eight years, and I do want to see this go through,” said Noah Campbell. “For my kids and their kids, to have something wonderful like this in the community would be great.”
Amos Wengler, the unofficial poet laureate of Coney Island, used his allotted three minutes to sing a song called, “Save Coney Island” (listen to it in our media player, below).
The two-and-a-half hour meeting began with a more detailed explanation of the city’s vision, which was first unveiled to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce in November.
“This is not your suburban Disney park, and we want to keep it that way,” promised Purnima Kapur, the Department of City Planning’s Brooklyn director.
The centerpiece of the plan calls for turning the faded amusement district between West Eighth Street and Stillwell Avenue — most of which is owned by private developer Joe Sitt — into a 15-acre public park, surrounded by hotels, retail and more amusements.
The city would have to buy out Sitt — who spent more than $100 million to acquire the land — in order to make that happen.
The plan also calls for rezoning the area bounded by West 20th Street and Mermaid, Surf and Stillwell avenues to allow for 1,800 new apartments and 100,000 square feet of retail space.
A third area, bounded by the Boardwalk, West 19th and West 24th streets and Surf Avenue, much of which is currently mapped as parkland, would be de-mapped to stimulate the private construction of 2,700 apartments and 360,000 square feet of retail space.
Kapur and Lynn Kelly, the president of the Coney Island Development Corporation, offered even more details of how the city’s plan would move forward:
• The city optimistically predicted that the state environmental review, the legislation required for the demapping of some parkland and the creation of new parks, and the uniform land use review process would be completed by early 2009.
• The city also said a request for proposals for an amusement operator to run the new amusement park would be issued by 2009.
• All work will be done by 2012.
• The city estimates that the project will create about 20,000 temporary construction jobs, and more than 3,000 permanent jobs.
• The city claims the plan will draw, over the next 10 years, more than $2.5 billion in private investment, and will generate about $6.5 billion in tax revenue for the city over 30 years.
A parade of Brooklynites stepped up to the mic on Monday night to express their support, however qualified, for the city’s grand vision for Coney Island. Here’s what a few of the more than 200 raucous attendees had to say:
“I said 20 years ago that there are three things Coney Island needs: jobs, jobs and jobs. We needed it 20 years ago, and we need it now.” Lou Powsner, 84, Coney Island resident
“The city has the money to buy that land — why doesn’t the city have the money to fix the Boardwalk? There has to be something to address the needs of the community.” Brian Gottlieb, attorney
“Save Coney Island/Save Coney Island/Save Coney Island/Don’t let them take it away.” Amos Wengler, poet laureate of Coney Island