Sitt on it - Brooklyn Paper

Sitt on it

Justine Jackson and her father Skip drove all the way from Pennsylvania to lend their voices to the “Save Coney Island” campaign.
Alan Chin

Embattled Coney Island developer Joe Sitt will allow the carnie attractions that line the fabled Boardwalk to remain open for another year without a raise in rent — and it looks like Astroland may be next to get the long-awaited stay of execution.

The developer is in the final stages of negotiation with Astroland owner Carol Albert on next season’s rent for the 3.1-acre, 45-year-old home of Dante’s Inferno, a water flume and other scream-inducing rides, a source said.

“They are getting close to working something out,” the source said.

Albert has been on a veritable roller coaster since she sold her land to Sitt, who wants to raze Astroland in favor of a glitzy $1.5-billion, Las Vegas-style, year-round entertainment and hotel complex.

This summer was supposed to the final run for the Apollo-era funland, but Albert wants Sitt to give her a one-year lease extension. She has claimed that Sitt’s asking price of $3 million in rent — about $2.8 million more than she paid this year — was too high.

But Sitt’s spokesman, Stefan Friedman, told The Brooklyn Paper that the developer sought “considerably less.”

Albert declined to comment on the ongoing negotiations. Meanwhile, a long ride just ended for her carny colleagues, who all got new leases for next year.

“I am so relieved,” said Dianna Carlin, owner of Lola Staar Boutique. Just two days before Sitt extended the leases, Carlin suggested that the ad-hoc group, “Save Coney Island,” protest in front of the developer’s Midtown office.

The red-haired entrepreneur says now that all Sitt needs to do to win her support is remove the hotel component of his project, a controversial and potentially profitable element that he insists is necessary to subsidize the attractions like a new rollercoaster and a double-decker carousel.

The hotels would require a rezoning, which the city is reluctant to give because of fears that it would lead to residential development and weaken Coney’s small section of rides and games.

But even as Sitt extends an olive branch to his opponents, others are raising the volume on the fight against his plan.

The so-called mayor of Coney Island, Dick Zigun, last week sent a formal denouncement of the developer to city decision-makers. In the letter, Zigun, the founder of the Coney Island Museum and the popular Mermaid Parade, called Sitt a “bully.”

Zigun has his own gripe with Sitt, accusing him of backing out of deal to sell Zigun a historic Surf Avenue building for a new home for the Coney Island Museum.

“I am totally outraged,” Zigun said about his dealings with Sitt. “He told me and the city for a year and a half that he would work to preserve the character of Coney Island and save this building, and now he is not.”

Sometimes lost in the local debate over this building or that lease is the larger issue of the true identity of Coney Island and whether it exists in the mind, or in real life.

It’s a question that surfaced most recently at a meeting of Save Coney Island Monday night, the group formed by Carlin to advocate for the mythic People’s Playground.

“I don’t know how to describe what I want to save,” Amos Wengler, the unofficial bard of Coney Island, said after the group’s Monday night meeting.

“I want to see Coney Island stay the way it is, the way I like it. I want to keep the people that do what they do and the old fun things.”

Wengler sat next to newcomers to the group. The only thing they had in common was the desire to not lose a broken-down place where the smell of saltwater mingles equally with the scent of trash and dreams.

Justine Jackson and her father Skip drove 80 miles from suburban Philadelphia to be at the gathering — a drive she makes every weekend to experience the joys of Coney Island.

“Last Saturday, I learned how to salsa dance at Ruby’s on the Boardwalk,” said the 23-year-old seamstress. Jackson said that she fears that Sitt’s Thor Equities will homogenize the place she goes to in order to escape the strip malls and multiplexes of her hometown.

“There aren’t many places where you can see a happy family eating ice cream and a drag queen dancing with a boombox on the same block,” she said. “I plan to fight to make sure that stays.”

This fall, the fight will move from grassroots meetings like Monday night’s to city-run public hearings. By the end of the year, the City Hall-controlled Coney Island Development Corporation is expected to roll out a rezoning plan that will dictate what Sitt is allowed to build — and not build — in the area.

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