A leading People’s Playground activist is calling for Coney Island to be rebuilt by Coney Islanders.
Keith Suber, a former gang member turned community activist, is urging the owners of Sandy-smashed structures to hire local workers for their rebuilding efforts, which Suber says will both restore Coney’s former glory and bring down chronic unemployment and street crime in the surrounding community.
“It’s only fair, and it brings a better quality of life in the community,” said Suber.
Suber’s eponymous foundation pairs unemployed residents with jobs within the neighborhood — a service he argues is even more important in the wake of the hurricane.
“We were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. A lot of people were misplaced, a lot of people lost their homes, a lot of people lost their jobs, a lot of children lost their clothes,” said Suber.
He’s already had success in getting the contractor installing the new modular Boardwalk bathrooms and repairing shattered Steeplechase Pier to commit to hiring some workers locally.
Now, Suber’s trying to get the same promise out of Taconic Investments for the work on their shopping plaza at the corner of W. 17th Street and Mermaid Avenue, and from Horace Bullard, owner of the landmarked Shore Theater, where he said he’s spotted laborers going in and out in recent weeks.
“I’ve been chasing them around. I know they’re doing things there, and it brings down the value of our community when they hire from outside,” Suber said, arguing that high local unemployment increases street crime.
Taconic’s Chief Executive Officer Charles Bendit said he was unaware that Suber was trying to contact him, but claimed he was open to employing Coney residents — as long as they are qualified.
“We have nothing against hiring local people, if they have the necessary skills to do the work,” said Bendit, who conceded that he’s not exactly sure what those skills are.
But Suber said Coney Islanders are more than capable of working in their own neighborhood, especially since his group helps them obtain training and safety certification, and that employers are often impressed with the people he brings them.
“Sometimes contractors come to me, they say, ‘this guy does great work, where did you get him?’ ” Suber said. “I tell them, ‘I got him right here, around the corner.’ ”