Sitt gets hip: Coney magnate courts trendy shops

Coney cool to scaled-down plan
The Brooklyn Paper / Julie Rosenberg

The real estate magnate who plans to turn Coney Island into a glitzy waterfront enclave of hotels and condos says he wants to keep the People’s Playground’s weird vibe alive — by renting space to quirky Brownstone Brooklyn-style small businesses this summer.

Thor Equities owner Joe Sitt says he will lease three of the four retail spaces in his building opposite the train station to mom-and-pops, promising unique shopping opportunities days after big name chains Johnny Rockets, Applebee’s, and Red Mango rented spaces owned by a different landlord just steps away.

Sitt says the fourth space in his building on Surf Avenue between Stillwell Avenue and W. 12th Street will go to an undisclosed national tenant, but he says it’s crucial to offer space to independent business owners.

“Coney Island’s popularity has reached record proportions, but we can never forget what got us here — local, ahead-of-their-time business owners who brought flair, hip-ness and edge to the People’s Playground,” Sitt said. “While it is wonderful that national chains are now coming to Coney, we must always remember the history of this iconic neighborhood.”

Sitt spokesman Stefan Friedman said Thor would lease the spaces at reduced rent for the 2013 season — though he would not name a figure — and added that the controversial property giant was open to a longer-term arrangement.

Friedman raised the possibility of harboring a Sandy-damaged Coney business or bringing in an artisan shop from the northern sections of the borough.

“Things have really skyrocketed in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg, Bushwick, Cobble Hill, why shouldn’t we get a little of that local flair in Coney Island?” Friedman said. “Coney Island has always been an eclectic place, and we’re wide open right now.”

Sitt hasn’t won much support for his previous efforts to keep the kitsch in Coney Island — his attempt to open a flea market got panned in an era when it seemed like everybody and their bearded cousin was opening one.

But if Sitt’s plan works, it won’t be the first time that businesses from trendier parts of Brooklyn set up shop in Coney Island.

Last summer, the beloved Prospect Heights eatery Tom’s Restaurant and DUMBO’s tourist-packed Grimaldi’s Pizzeria opened outposts in Coney Island. A plan to bring Park Slope’s Zito’s Sandwich Shoppe to the People’s Playground wound up in a holding pattern, according to the blog Amusing the Zillions.

Friedman said the move to discount rent at the long-empty building was not due to a difficulty snagging bigger tenants — or because of the fallout from Hurricane Sandy.

“Coney Island is hot right now, and a lot of people have been interested in the space, but we want the right deal that’s going to be the right fit for Coney Island,” said Friedman.

Real estate experts doubted the storm forced Sitt to lower prices, claiming there has been no drop in demand in recent months.

“No matter what, next summer’s going to come, and the same number of people are going to want to come there, and entrepreneurs are going to want to be there to market to them,” said Brian Hanson of Massey Knakal Realty Services.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.