Coney Island’s biggest amusement park will remain closed this weekend — and for the rest of the summer — as a state Supreme Court judge refused to force landowner Joe Sitt to reopen the theme park that he abruptly shut down last week amid a rent dispute with the park’s operator.
Anthony Raffaelle, who admits he owes sit hundreds of thousands in back rent, went to court today to demand that he be allowed to reopen the Dreamland amusement park on the grounds that Sitt’s lockout last Friday was illegal.
The judge put off the case until Friday, Sept. 18, making it unlikely that the amusement park on the grounds of the old Astroland playland will reopen this summer.
Sitt had abruptly shut down Dreamland, on Surf Avenue and West 10th Street, on Aug. 21, saying that Raffaelle owed more than $500,000 in rent. The lockout put about a dozen rides and attractions off limits.
Raffaelle admitted that he owes around $500,000 in rent, but said Sitt’s lockout was hostile and foolish.
“It’s so late in the season, if they had beef with me, now is not the time,” he said.
Indeed, Coney Island Circus Sideshow operator Dick Zigun, agreed with Raffaelle
“Whether or not rent was owed, you don’t have the right to act like a bully,” said Zigun, whose iconic stature in Coney Island was affirmed this week when The Brooklyn Paper highlighed his side job as “Mayor of Coney Island.”
Sitt disagreed with both Raffaelle and Zigun, saying that he, not Raffaelle or the kids being turned away from the once-thriving amusement area, is the victim here.
“Dreamland has not come close to meeting its financial obligations in many months,” said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Sitt’s company, Thor Equities. “We are hopeful that Dreamland will soon pay its rent [and] re-open.”
Raffaelle has long been a behind-the-scenes presence in Coney Island. He also ran Sitt’s attractions that also closed early last year. 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.
Last 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 last week’s lockout turned even Sitt’s longtime ally, Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island), into a critic.
“This is a heartless person who only cares about money,” Recchia told the Daily News last Saturday.