Developer Joe Sitt abruptly shut down the Dreamland amusement park on his land in Coney Island, the site of the old Astroland theme park, last Friday morning, saying that the operator owed more than $500,000 in rent.
The lockout on Surf Avenue and West 10th Street made about a dozen rides and attractions off limits, perhaps for the rest of the short-lived season, which winds down after Labor Day.
Since the lockout, Dreamland’s operator, Anthony Raffaelle, has been in court trying to get a judge to declare that Sitt acted illegally, but Monday’s hearing was inconclusive. Another session was set for Thursday.
Raffaelle admits that he owes around $500,000 in rent, but said Sitt’s lockout was not only illegal, but hostile.
“It’s so late in the season, if they had beef with me, now is not the time,” he said.
Sitt disagreed, saying that he, not Raffaelle or the kids being turned away from the once-thriving amusement area, is the victim here.
“Dreamland has not come close to meeting its financial obligations in many months,” said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Sitt’s company, Thor Equities. “We are hopeful that Dreamland will soon pay its rent [and] re-open.”
Raffaelle, who has long been a behind-the-scenes presence in Coney Island, also ran Sitt’s attractions that also closed early last year. This year he planned to be on the Astroland site with Ringling Bros, but when Sitt’s negotiations with Ringling broke down, Sitt made him take the whole lot, he said.
Last weekend, he and his workers remained angry about the shutdown.
“We just showed up for work and couldn’t get in,” said Lori Vise, who worked at Dreamland. “It’s not fair for the visitors of Coney Island. We want it back open.”
And didn’t anybody think of the children?
“It’s not right to close down in the middle of the season,” said Richard Vowers of Sheepshead Bay. “It’s going to disappoint a lot of kids. My girlfriend’s son likes the helicopter ride and the train ride.”
Dreamland sits behind locked gates on what was the Space Age theme park Astroland, which Sitt shut down in a lease disagreement with the land’s former owner, Carol Albert. Albert had sold the land to Sitt two years earlier, but continued to operate the amusement park on the site until last year.
Sitt still hopes to redevelop his holdings in Coney Island into a 24-7-365, Vegas-style Xanadu with rides, retail and hotels. But last week’s lockout turned even Sitt’s longtime ally, Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island), into a critic.
“This is a heartless person who only cares about money,” Recchia told the Daily News on Saturday.