Marty tells all! Beep bears his thinking about Coney

Coney reopens! Big whoop
The Brooklyn Paper / Bess Adler

Coney Island belonged to Borough President Markowitz last week. He grabbed the spotlight on Wednesday by announcing his support for Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial plan to rezone — and hopefully redevelop — the so-called “People’s Playground.” Then, on Thursday morning, the Beep (right) hobnobbed with an elephant and some clowns as part of the publicity campaign for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s circus, which is pitching a tent next to the Boardwalk this summer. Yet Markowitz still had time on Thursday afternoon for a frank dialogue with The Brooklyn Paper. In a broad-ranging discussion with our senior reporter Mike McLaughlin, he reminisces about his youth in Coney Island, tells the neighborhood’s main landowner, Joe Sitt, to sell or shut up, and confesses that his beloved big box retailers don’t belong in the amusement zone. It’s an interview you’ll see only in The Brooklyn Paper.

Brooklyn Paper: The mayor’s Coney Island rezoning plan calls for spending taxpayer money to buy land and build a city-owned theme park adjacent to a tourist quarter of hotels, restaurants and other attractions. It also aims to build thousands of new apartments in other parts of the neighborhood. You back the plan, but said this week that it needs to be amended so that there are more amusements, “guaranteed glitz” in the streetscape and jobs for union and local workers. How did you make up your mind?

Markowitz: I approved it with improvements. The mayor and his folks came out with a very viable rezoning. I’m one of the very few that are currently involved in the process that is actually a product of Coney Island during its heyday, a little bit in the 1940s, the 1950s and into the ’60s. That experience comes out in my recommendations. You can’t bring back yesterday. But you could move Coney Island into the 21st century [by] expanding the amusement area. Let’s face it, what’s gong to drive more people to Coney Island are more amusements. It’s not a mall and it shouldn’t be a mall. It’s about entertainment and kids and their families.

BP: One of your proposed amendments to the mayor’s plan was a request that they don’t bring in just one operator to run the theme park that the Bloomberg wants built. But the small merchants have faced such a hard time for many reasons. Maybe the better way to create a thriving People’s Playground is with one big amusement park?

Markowitz: I guess maybe it’s a throwback [idea]. I’m concerned about a bland, uniform amusement area. Coney Island is not Disney World. It’s not Six Flags. The beauty of Coney Island’s uniqueness is that anybody can get there by subway. It’s unlike any other place in America. It’s easily accessible and you don’t have to pay to get into the amusement area. You can spend as much or as little as you want.

BP: Speaking of money, there’s no price tag attached to the major city development project. How can you tell the public it’s a good project when the city won’t say how much it has to spend?

Markowitz: I know. That’s always a challenge, particularly during economically challenging times. I’m not a businessman. I’m not in position to know what is the proper amount. But I know that in order to make money, you have to put money in. This is an investment the city is making for the future. The city has made an offer [to buy 10-1/2 acres of land in the amusement area from Joe Sitt] that it thinks is reasonable. The property owner thinks he can do better. I’m hoping the private developer in this case becomes part of the future of Coney Island in a way within the plan that ultimate come from City Council or decides to sell and understand that the concept of Coney Island is bigger than any of us.

BP: But why shouldn’t the city let Sitt take charge of redeveloping Coney Island? He owns more than 10 acres of land, and at times, he’s talked about an amusement park, hotels and attractions.

Markowitz: Everyone has gone over this and it included a large retail component. I have no problem with hotels as long as they don’t become year-round living spaces or residential spaces. Once you do that, it’s the end of Coney Island. Once you allow regular retail in there, that makes it a mall.