In an embarrassing setback, Coney Island’s would-be savior, developer Joe Sitt, has postponed the highly publicized grand opening of rides, freak shows and vendors this weekend.
Sitt’s “Festival by the Sea” has been hyped for months and will still open this weekend in Coney Island, but only half of the 25 rides will be on hand at the West 10th Street and Surf Avenue site. Sitt’s bazaar of food, crafts and knickknack vendors will be nearby, but they will be exposed to the elements because of a tent mishap.
“There’s still going to be a lot going on,” said Loren Riegelhaupt, a Sitt spokesman.
Coney Island visitors can expect the full monty by Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start to the summer season, Riegelhaupt added.
But Sitt’s company, Thor Equities, has not succeeded in past summers with temporary rides and attractions to fill vacant lots in the company’s portfolio of 10-1/2 acres in the historic People’s Playground. Last year, Sitt’s self-described “The Summer of Hope” turned into the summer of nope when carnies packed up and departed early.
This summer’s rough start is just a fluke, affirmed Riegelhaupt.
“We’re very committed to Coney. We’ve invested a tremendous amount of time, energy and money in the festival, and we think it’s going to be great,” he said.
Sitt says he wants to build a modern Xanadu of rides, hotels and shopping in the rundown amusement area, but his plans have been blocked by Mayor Bloomberg’s own proposal to buy Sitt’s acreage and build a new amusement park between the Cyclone roller coaster and Keyspan Park.
Private developers would be able to build hotels and other tourist attractions in the vicinity, under the mayor’s rezoning plan, which is nearing final approval in the city’s land-use review process.
Sitt’s detractors crowed upon hearing that the “Festival by the Sea” had been blown off course.
“Amusements aren’t his industry,” said Dianna Carlin, the founder of the Lola Staar boutique, referring to Sitt’s background as a shopping-mall developer. “He obviously doesn’t have the necessary experience in the amusement business.”
Carlin’s shop was a Boardwalk tenant of Sitt, but he did not renew her lease because of her history of criticizing him. She’s relocated to the Stillwell Avenue subway station and plans to reopen on Memorial Day weekend.
But in Coney Island, the success of one merchant in the business helps everyone, so Carlin didn’t laugh long.
“I hope he succeeds, because Coney Island needs more amusements,” she said.