The Beep’s seaside amphitheater plan has taken its first big step forward.
A major public oversight board voted unanimously on Dec. 4 in favor of outgoing Borough President Markowitz’s controversial dream of turning the former Childs Restaurant in Coney Island into a venue to host his summer concerts series.
The City Planning Commission, a 13-member panel charged with approving major real estate projects, endorsed Borough President Markowitz’s pet project of converting the landmarked and derelict Childs building into a restaurant and arena complex — to the chagrin of residents who fear the Beep’s baby is bound to be unruly.
Markowitz was overjoyed at the decision — and reiterated his argument that the project will benefit the neighborhood’s impoverished residential area by supplying jobs and necessary infrastructure improvements.
“I’m thrilled about it — thrilled,” the Beep said. “And I’m confident that they did not vote for it for any reason other than the good it will do to that part of Coney Island and its residents.”
But critics have long complained that sinking $50 million of taxpayers’ money into transforming the 90-year-old building into a for-profit, upscale eatery and music venue is a severe misallocation of funds. They have pointed out that the neighborhood still suffers from sporadic heat and power outages, and is home to shuttered storefronts a year after Hurricane Sandy, plus the issue of sewers that flood during heavy rains.
Others have raised fears that the 40 planned yearly concerts will afflict nearby residential blocks with ear-splitting noise and nightmarish traffic congestion. Some have said that they would accept the new venue only with a community benefits agreement — a legal contract guaranteeing that the development would hire exclusively Coney Islanders at a living wage.
“The residents of Coney Island want to benefit from all the monstrosities they’re bringing in here,” said Sheila Smalls, a founding member of the People’s Coalition of Coney Island, a neighborhood group critical of the city’s amusement-centric hurricane-recovery policies.
Both Markowitz and many on the City Planning Commission are leaving office next year and they are trying to jam the amphitheater plan through before January, Smalls argued.
“It’s a desperate last attempt to rape and rob Coney Island,” she said.
Markowitz said he would encourage iStar Financial, the company that will renovate and operate the building, to hire residents. But he refused to commit to supporting a community benefits agreement — and claimed that such an agreement could only come after the Council has voted in favor of the amphitheater.
“There’s no community benefits agreement until the project is approved,” said Markowitz, comparing the project’s opponents to the foes of the Atlantic Yards development. “No project has ever met with everyone cheering. Atlantic Yards has benefitted Brooklyn, and this will benefit Coney Island.”
The mayor appointed seven of the commission’s members, including the chairwoman, while the five borough presidents and the public advocate each appointed one. The Council will vote on whether to approve the project on Dec. 16.
Should the legislative body fail to authorize it, the project would be in the hands of new Mayor Bill DeBlasio, incoming Borough President Eric Adams, and freshman Coney Island Councilman Mark Treyger.