Op-ed | We want economic revitalization on Coney Island, but not a casino

coney island
File photo by Arthur de Gaeta

This op-ed was written by Edwin Cosme, Mathylde Frontus, Angela Kravtchenko, Linda Harrison, Yelena Makhnin, Yvonne Mayo, Orlando Mendez, Astrudge McLean, Sharaya Means, Michael Quinn, Ronald Stewart, Erica Turner, Ann Valdez and Sophia Williams

As long-time residents of Coney Island, we are no strangers to having developers and other corporate actors pitch their next big idea for our neighborhood. We have been here for the last 30-70-plus years. We have lived through the best of times and the worst of times. We are not surprised by the recent efforts of the developers behind “The Coney,” the proposed casino for Coney Island. We have watched as they make the rounds offering flashy gifts to our neighbors: free Thanksgiving turkeys, t-shirts, donations to nonprofit organizations — all to curry favor for their ill-advised project.

As the old saying goes “we’ve seen this show before.”

This isn’t the first time there’s been talk of bringing a casino to Coney Island. In the late 1970’s there were discussions about having a casino hotel built on the peninsula. The community was split and the plans never materialized. Coney Island has seen many positive improvements since then. Opening a casino now would be a tremendous step backwards.

Coney Island has long been recognized as an economically distressed community. There is no doubt that it needs the kind of economic development that would make it a year-round destination. The area is ripe with potential. The possibilities are endless. We welcome hotels, conference centers, an assortment of retail and exciting shopping experiences, healthy and delicious restaurants that reflect the diversity of our neighborhood, performing arts venues, a bowling alley, an archery range, a rock-climbing gym, an indoor water park and other options for family entertainment, all of which would attract visitors to the amusement district throughout the fall and winter.

We dream of a new Coney Island that is bustling with wonderful attractions that residents yearn for. But we only need to look at development patterns in other Brooklyn neighborhoods to see that we do not need a casino to get what our community deserves. It is simply dishonest to suggest that Coney Island’s only pathway to prosperity is reliant on a casino.

Moreover, if one were to poll most residents of Coney Island and have them list their top five wishes for improving the neighborhood, the data would speak for itself. Many of us who live here have a wish list with items far more important than a casino. We need to fix the infrastructure of Coney Island. We need innovative, next generation storm resilience measures. We need to Superfund Coney Island Creek and to clean it once and for all. We need to mitigate our exposure to air and noise pollution.

It’s no surprise then that our local community board 13 voted down this project just a few months ago in October. Months earlier in April, they also hosted a large community meeting at Gargiulo’s restaurant where over 300 residents showed up to oppose the project. In most public meetings we have been to, there have more people shouting that they don’t want this project than the other way around.

The bottom line is that a casino would fill the pockets of its owners, not the people of Coney Island. Instead, we need to reinvest resources into the people of our community. In our vision for Coney Island, there are job training and apprenticeship programs, small business incubators, entrepreneurial opportunities, an abundance of fresh produce, locally-owned independent shops and a state-of-the-art youth recreation center.

This is why we’re hosting a community forum on Monday, Feb. 12 from 6-8 p.m. at P.S. 329. The forum will feature guest speaker Les Bernal, the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling & Campaign for Gambling-Free Kids.

We don’t need another smoke shop, liquor store or unlicensed cannabis store. And we definitely don’t need a casino.