Coney Island’s would-be savior, Joe Sitt, broke a two-year silence to skewer the city’s controversial Coney Island redevelopment plan, just as Mayor Bloomberg’s rezoning proposal got a rubber stamp from the City Planning Commission on Wednesday.
The planning body approved the mayor’s plan to rezone much of the faded “People’s Playground” in hopes of stimulating the construction of a glitzy amusement park and 4,500 apartments. The total cost of the project is unknown, but land acquisition and infrastructure alone will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions — an investment the city says is necessary to rehabilitate one of the poorer residential communities in the city.
But Sitt, who owns 10-1/2 acres of land that the mayor needs, says his version of an all-year Xanadu of rides, hotels and shopping (pictured) is better and could actually be built.
“The whole concept of the government taking over the site and building it … and then dealing with the state is mind-boggling,” Sitt told The Brooklyn Paper.
But city officials took a slap right back at the would-be developer, whose land once housed the Astroland theme park, which closed last year.
“At this critical juncture, with the amusements shrinking and the peninsula strewn with vacant lots, our vote today advances our only opportunity to help Coney Island reclaim its mantle as the world’s greatest open, affordable and accessible, urban amusement park,” City Planning Commission Chairwoman Amanda Burden said on Wednesday.
The commission’s unanimous approval of the plan was a mere formality, as its support was widely expected, but the session turned raucous with protestors interrupting the voting to demand more below-market housing than the 900 units currently promised.
But the main sticking point is Sitt, who has rejected previous propositions to swap his real-estate portfolio, which includes the former Astroland site and many of the arcade businesses along the Boardwalk and Surf Avenue.
Skeptics believe that Sitt is simply holding out for price higher than the $105 million last offered by the city, but the Gravesend native said this week that he remains committed to resurrecting the birthplace of honky-tonk fun with his own midway magnum opus.
“Our intent was always to develop,” Sitt said, perched in the Manhattan headquarters of his company, Thor Equities, as he displayed plans for a colorful patchwork of rides, hotels and retail. “Coney Island was left for dead before we got involved.”
Sitt and his team also attacked aspects of the mayor’s plan, saying that mandates for parking could lead to visitors having to park too far from the amusement area, roughly bounded by Surf Avenue, Stillwell Avenue, the Boardwalk and West 10th Street. Sitt also said that retail stores in that quarter should be bigger.
Sitt might not be able to do anything but complain. The Bloomberg Administration has repeatedly said it doesn’t believe he’s qualified to create and operate a world-class theme park.
Sitt has an ally in Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island), but unless he can stop the mayor’s rezoning steamroller, his vision will likely be buried alongside the vanquished dreams of previous Coney Island wannabes like Fred Trump and Kansas Fried Chicken magnate Horace Bullard.
Bloomberg has run into other obstacles, too. His plan requires state legislation to map the proposed amusement area as parkland, an alleged protection against future redevelopment proposals. But no one in Albany has been willing to sponsor the bill, at least not before the mayor and Sitt come to terms.