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Theme park experts urge city to ‘Disney-fy’ Coney

The Brooklyn Paper
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Mayor Bloomberg’s hand-picked panel of amusement industry experts is urging the city to find a single operator to run a proposed new theme park for Coney Island, a controversial suggestion that would radically change the nature of the People’s Playground, once the domain of a multitude of independent carnies and ride owners.

“The time is now to identify and select a single industry operator/developer to oversee the development,” the “Coney Island Amusement Advisory Panel” said a statement issued yesterday. The “blue ribbon” commission includes executives from Six Flags, Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, and amusement parks in Wildwood, N.J.

Even though the suggestion for a single, Disney-like operator came from Bloomberg’s own committee, city officials did not fully embrace the idea.

“Whether its one development partner, two development partners or five development partners, the key is to keep the diversity … to keep Coney Island, Coney Island,” said Seth Pinsky, president of the Economic Development Corporation, the city agency spearheading the mayor’s plan to transform Coney Island into a year-round tourist destination of rides, hotels and attractions. The city has waffled on whether it would hire only one company for its proposed 12-acre theme park between the Cyclone roller coaster and Keyspan Park. Recently, the city has tilted towards the idea of protecting the few remaining individual amusement businesses, like the family-owned Deno’s Wonder Wheel park.

Even in its current diminished state, Coney Island is still home to a handful of individually run attractions and concessions near the Boardwalk and there’s a clear preference among the honky-tonk businesspeople to maintain the tradition of multiple entrepreneurs.

“We think the public is best served by a variety of attractions,” said Ken Hochman, a spokesman for Deno’s. “But we feel those concerns can be addressed as the city moves its plans forward.”

Thursday’s statement by the advisory panel came after three days of workshops, tours and “brainstorm­ing sessions” over the future of Coney Island, city officials said. The result was a statement that outlined six other principals besides the “single operator” idea:

Take advantage of the Coney Island brand: the ocean, the beach, the Boardwalk and even the subway are the key fundamentals of Coney’s future.

Honor the area’s history (but don’t get too nostalgic): The amusement park at Coney does not have to be a “themed” theme park, the statement said. “It doesn’t need to be ‘Disney-fied,’” the statement said in a bit of irony, given the concurrent support for one park operator.

Get the core of Coney Island’s amusement district right: Twelve acres, the panel said, is enough room, as long as the core park has enough rides and an “air-in-the-face experience, focusing on speed, thrills and adrenaline.”

Bring in year-round “urban entertainm­ent”: Beyond the 12-acre core should be 15 acres of indoor attractions, rides, restaurants, and hotels, though the statement did not define the word “urban.” But big-box and mall retail — critical to a rival plan by the neighborhood’s key landowner, Joe Sitt — should not be allowed in this.

No “pay one price admission”: “Coney Island should continue to be open and family-friendly,” the statement said. “Coney Island should not be compared to, and will not compete with, gated, suburban amusement parks.”

Do it now: “There is only one chance to get this right,” the statement said. “The city should begin with the installation of a major rollercoaster, followed by additional programming as the infrastructure is built out.”

The time may be now, but before work on a new park could even begin though, the mayor must acquire land from Sitt, who balked at the most recent city offer of $105 million for his 10-1/2 acres and also obtain approval from the City Council for the controversial plan.

Sitt wants to build a $2-billion Vegas-style, 24-7 amusement Xanadu that includes hotels, rides, entertainment venues and, most controversially, retail stores. Coney Island boosters, including Borough President Markowitz, say that retail would be the first step towards killing the spirit of the People’s Playground.

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Reader Feedback

Joey Bots from Under the Boardwalk says:
I don't see what was wrong with Coney to begin with. There were always tons of empty lots, but instead of building up those spaces - as always - they take away viable attractions that people really liked.

Government and greedy developers are now let loose to wield their unique forms of havoc. How sad for the peoples playground.

Aside from that - Why was i blessed with this musical talent?
May 15, 2009, 10:12 am
Justin from Clinton Hill says:
"The “blue ribbon” commission includes executives from Six Flags, Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, and amusement parks in Wildwood, N.J."

And they recommended a single operator? You don't say. When will the city figure out that these single-developer mega-projects a.) never actually get built and b.) are horrible and unpopular when they are? Blocks are wonderful things. The piecemeal nature on Coney Island is part of its appeal, and, especially since financing a billion dollar project is completely impossible at the moment, it would seem wise to stick with it. Not that you can't develop at all, but why not do it in pieces?
May 15, 2009, 10:35 am
LAUREN from DYKER HEIGHTS says:
I think this is a fabulous idea!!! It would bring in so much money for Brooklyn. Many people cant travel to floria or california. Whats better then New york !!! I think it would do wonders and also clean up the area !
May 15, 2009, 12:14 pm
Richie Rich from City Hall says:
Developers promoting blight so they can steal the land and then steal billions of taxpayer's dollars.

what was wrong with Coney Island? Families on very limited incomes could take their family there on the subway for an entire day out.

Could we take the millions of dollars they are paying to consultants and use it to reopen those fenced off businesses on the boardwalk?
May 15, 2009, 1:09 pm
jerry from west brighton beach says:
In addition to having one amusement expert to develop Coney Island, the Mayor & City should get Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz to change the venue of his "Vanity Project" Amphitheater from Seaside/ Asser Levy Park to Coney Island Amusement area. There is an outcry from those who live in this residential area that the Amphitheater DOES NOT belong there for many, many reasons. If it were in Coney Island Amusement area it would jump start the economic development there with jobs, tourists, restaurants & amusements.
May 16, 2009, 11:50 am
Big —— from Open Minded says:
God Damn You Greed Hounds!!!!!!!!!!
May 16, 2009, 4:27 pm
Buddy from Coney Island says:
LAUREN from DYKER HEIGHTS - You're an IDIOT
May 17, 2009, 8:21 am
Jim from Madison says:
Now, let's think about this. This hand-picked panel of experts includes executives from Six Flags. Not long ago, that stock traded at over $11 on the Nasdaq. It has since been demoted to the Bulletin Board and closed last Friday at 34 cents. Am I missing something here? Looks to me like these guys aren't too swift.
May 18, 2009, 8:54 am
A O from BKLYN says:
@ Jim from Madison
Everyone's stock is down; now is the time to buy buy buy and hold hold hold and in a recession the last thing I'm doing is spending extreme amounts of cash to rent a car gas it & tix for 6 flags. I'm sure their season passes didn't sell to well this year, but will be double next year and the stock will boom because of that at that point. @ .34 cents I'm using my gas and season pass money to buy some shares!

Is there stock for Coney Island?
May 18, 2009, 9:40 am
tony says:
Morey's Piers in Wildwood New Jersey should definitely be the model for future development. The people posting flat out rejection of the recommendations are simply ignorant. Morey's Piers operates three amusement piers that Coney Island could only hope to emulate. They are open to the public and are 'pay-to-ride." They have a mix of rides and it is a full fledged summer resort.

I also want to note that the actual recommendations of this group specifically said a "Disney-type" business model would not work and should be outright rejected.

The reporting at Brooklyn Papers can use some journalistic fact-checking before printing such inflammatory headlines.

May 18, 2009, 11:20 pm
ed from brooklyn says:
Richie Rich said: "what was wrong with Coney Island? Families on very limited incomes could take their family there"
Hey Richie -- the story sez: ""No 'pay one price admission': 'Coney Island should continue to be open and family-friendly ... Coney Island should not be compared to, and will not compete with, gated, suburban amusement parks.”

Justin from Clinton Hill says: "The piecemeal nature on Coney Island is part of its appeal"
But clearly isn't working.

And "tony" is right -- the statement specifically says "It doesn’t need to be ‘Disney-fied.' "
May 19, 2009, 1:17 am
ed from brooklyn says:
jerry from west brighton beach says: "There is an outcry from those who live in this residential area that the Amphitheater DOES NOT belong there for many, many reasons. If it were in Coney Island Amusement area it would jump start the economic development there with jobs, tourists, restaurants & amusements."

Anything to get it into someone else's neighborhood, right?
At which point THOSE guys would complain that it didn't belong there for "many, many reasons."
May 19, 2009, 1:19 am
tommy toxic from north america says:
the mayors suggestion, only highlights the most fearful aspect of modern developers who generify landmarks, and doing so remove the unique character of a place in exchange for franchises. Hey what the heck let's just ignore history and also suggest that the "United States" (in all it's wonderful diversity) should become the "State" of America with only one level of government...hmmmmmmmmmm....?
May 26, 2009, 3:35 pm

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