The amusement park operator who was locked out by developer Joe Sitt last Friday wanted to be back in business on the old Astroland site on Tuesday, but a court shot him down.
Anthony Raffaelle, whom Sitt brought in earlier this summer to operate Dreamland Park where Astroland once stood, could not pursuade a judge to order Sitt to reopen the amusement park this week — but he said he’d try again at another hearing on Thursday.
Raffaelle admitts that he owes around $500,000 in back rent, but called Sitt’s lockout “illegal.”
He said Sitt’s henchman arrived at 2 am last Friday, without a court order, and locked up the site.
“It’s so late in the season, if they had beef with me, now is not the time,” he said.
Raffaelle admitted that he’s only paid about $30,000 in rent so far, but claimed that he’s made an undisclosed, yet large, investment in the site’s infrastructure, including electrical and plumbing work.
The lockout on Surf Avenue and West 10th Street put about a dozen rides and attractions off limits — but Sitt’s company, Thor Equities, said the shutdown was justified.
“Dreamland has been locked out because it has not come close to meeting its financial obligations in many months,” said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Thor Equities. “We are hopeful that Dreamland will soon pay its rent so it can quickly re-open the rides and allow Coney Islanders and visitors to continue enjoying what has been a spectacular summer so far.”
Friedman also dismissed the cost of Raffaelle’s infrastructure work because such work is required under the lease anyway.
Raffaelle has had a long behind-the-scenes presence in Coney Island. Last year, he ran Sitt’s attractions on Stillwell Avenue that closed early. This year he planned to be on the Astroland site with Ringling Bros, but when Sitt’s negotiations with Ringling broke down, Sitt made him take the whole lot, he said.
Over the weekend, he and his workers remained angry about the shutdown.
“We just showed up for work and couldn’t get in,” said Lori Vise, who worked at Dreamland. “It’s not fair for the visitors of Coney Island. We want it back open.”
And didn’t anybody think of the children?
“It’s not right to close down in the middle of the season,” said Richard Vowers of Sheepshead Bay. “It’s going to disappoint a lot of kids. My girlfriend’s son likes the helicopter ride and the train ride.”
Dreamland sits behind locked gates on what was the space-age theme park Astroland, which Sitt shut down in a lease disagreement with the land’s former owner, Carol Albert. Albert had sold the land to Sitt two years earlier, but continued to operate the amusement park on the site until last year.
Sitt still hopes to redevelop his holdings in Coney Island into a 24-7-365, Vegas-style Xanadu with rides, retail and hotels. But in the short term, he is under pressure from locals to show a commitment to the area’s long history as a playground. For the past two years, he has brought in outside carnies and ride operators, with limited success.
This year’s season got off to a rough start, with delayed openings and underwhelming attractions. The lockout of Dreamland today is yet another chapter in that saga.
How bad is it? Even Sitt’s longtime ally, Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island) could not defend his friend.
“This is a heartless person who only cares about money,” Recchia told the Daily News on Saturday.