Why is the Bloomberg Administration going into the amusement park business?
We have asked this question repeatedly as we watched — with anything but amusement — the mayor block Coney Island’s main landowner in his efforts to spend $2 billion to turn the faded ocean-front paradise into a glitzy, Vegas-style Xanadu.
We’ve expressed concern that the mayor was allowing his personal animosity for developer Joe Sitt to hinder the redevelopment of Coney Island, but that concern now turns to horror as the actual cost of Bloomberg’s pettiness becomes clearer.
This week, the city moved to buy the landowner’s Coney holdings at a cost of hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars.
The Bloomberg Administration wants the land in order to realize its own vision for the future of Coney Island — a plan that includes many of the same elements (new rides, new attractions, a hotel) that Sitt himself proposed.
But in a time when subway lines are being slashed, a fare hike is pending and the state is planning to raise funds with dubious East River bridge tolls, we ask again: why would the city spend close to $200 million to buy Sitt’s land when Sitt’s basic plan for Coney Island is so similar to what the city says it wants?
City officials say that buying out Sitt is the only way to give the Bloomberg Administration what it needs to save Coney Island, namely control of the land itself.
But that is a myth: the city already has control of the land that Sitt owns because that land is currently zoned only for amusement-related uses.
In other words, no matter how much land he owns, Sitt can’t do anything except build an amusement park without a zoning change.
So the city doesn’t need to buy out Sitt — it just needs to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to whatever elements of his plan would veer from existing amusement zoning.
Instead, the city proposes to buy all the land and run the place itself.
That kind of top-down master planning is simply foolish, especially in tough economic times, when the city will be under great pressure from taxpayers to keep the streets safe, the subways operating properly, and provide basic city services — and do so without raising taxes — rather than spend hundreds of millions on Bloomberg’s Coney baloney.
If Brooklyn’s renaissance reminds us of anything, it’s that this borough does best when City Hall gets out of the way. Look at Fourth Avenue in Park Slope, the Flatbush Avenue corridor in Downtown or the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront; in all three cases, neighborhoods are booming with new housing, new businesses and new excitement all because the city tweaked outmoded zoning and let the private sector and market forces take over.
The cost was minimal, but the benefit to those neighborhoods is incalculable.
The city controls the zoning in Coney Island. It doesn’t need to buy Sitt’s land. It only needs to enforce its amusement-only zoning, tweak it where needed and then get out of the way as Coney blooms anew.