Community eroding: Demands for public investment in Coney as developer buys shuttered social services center

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They say it’s not the People’s Playground anymore.

A Manhattan developer bought a block-sized Surf Avenue building for $7.7 million at a bankruptcy auction May 5, dashing the hopes of community activists and local pols who made a late push to get the mayor to purchase it and convert the dormant building into community space. The city blew a opportunity, but it came as no surprise that officials deferred to wealthy developers, according to a local advocate.

“That would have been a great location for a youth center,” said Ken Jones at a rally organized by Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island). “That’s prime real estate, the rich already wanted that — we knew what they were going do.”

The Federation Employment and Guidance Services building at the corner of W. 35th Street closed before Superstorm Sandy, but the damage it sustained in the storm — and the social-services agency’s bankruptcy last year — sealed its fate.

It is one of a handful of public facilities closed in the neighborhood in recent years. Sandy shuttered two community centers run by Heartshare Human Services group at the New York City Housing Authority’s Gravesend Houses and Surfside Gardens — both near the neighborhood’s far edge near Sea Gate. The Gravesend Houses facility had a kitchen and four large activity rooms, while the Surfside Gardens facility had a gym, according to the Daily News.

The housing authority is still negotiating a $50-million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair facilities in 10 public housing areas citywide, but the federal agency will not sign the checks until the housing authority shows it has built in flood protections to protect against future storms.Authority representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

The loss of services have put more of Coney Island’s youth out on the tough streets of Coney Island’s west end, according to a member of the Guardian Angels with firsthand experience.

“There’s a real crisis down there with all these kids out in the street and not having a place to go,” said Coney Island native Jose Gonzalez. “When I grew up, there it was the community centers that saved me — with all the gangs that were going on, if I didn’t have that center I would’ve been caught up and probably dead.”

The city’s failure to scoop up the seaside lot is the latest in a pattern of focusing recovery and development efforts on the amusement district rather than the peninsula’s low-income residential areas, he said.

“If there was something closer to the rides it goes up quick — after Hurricane Sandy everything came back just in time for the amusement season, but we still have centers that are closed,” Gonzalez said.

The Federation Employment and Guidance Services property is current zoning allows for residential buildings up to 40 feet in height.

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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