Thunder will roll once more in the People’s Playground!
Coney Island leaders broke ground on March 10 for the Thunderbolt, the first new roller coaster in Sodom by the Sea since 1927, named for a ride the city ripped down in 2000. City leaders, amusement impresarios, and Boardwalk freaks converged on an empty lot along W. 15th Street to scoop the first shovelfuls of sand for an 11-story, nearly half-mile-long rail ride. Its owner said the coaster embodies Coney’s wild soul.
“When you come here, it is a place where you don’t have to think of your everyday job — you can be a free spirit,” said Alberto Zamperla, whose namesake company owns Luna Park and will build and operate the new Thunderbolt.
Zamperla will have to pull out all the stops to get the attraction up and running by its planned opening date of May 22, the beginning of Memorial Day weekend and the Coney summer season. To help make the date, the company has enlisted the assistance of the Keith Suber Foundation, a local organization that works to recruit neighborhood residents for jobs in the amusement area. Zamperla vowed that the ride would bring several hundred construction jobs and 20 new permanent positions, which, along with the company’s multi-million dollar down-payment on the attraction, he said shows his commitment to the Playground of the World.
“The fact we are investing $10 million of our own money shows we are dedicated to Coney Island,” Zamperla said.
The Thunderbolt will differ from its predecessor in a number of ways — and not just because it won’t have a house beneath it.
Luna’s Thunderbolt will be a steel, rather than wooden coaster, and will sit next door to where the previous Thunderbolt roared. The new attraction will be built around an 11-story straight drop and a 10-story loop, making it the first ride to send thrill-seekers upside-down since the Loop-the-Loop, which closed shortly after World War I. The cars are supposed to reach speeds as fast as 55 miles and hour, with the entire ride lasting about 2 minutes.
The original Thunderbolt was built in 1925 atop the Kensington Hotel, which served as home to many of the coaster’s caretakers, including the late Andy Badalamenti and Alvy Singer, the fictional protagonist of Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” The ride closed in 1982 after suffering severe damage in an arson. The Giuliani administration destroyed the derelict attraction in a controversial pre-dawn demolition in 2000, a move a federal judge later declared illegal. The owner, the late Horace Bullard, received just $1 in compensation.
Zamperla also operates the city-owned Cyclone, the most recent coaster to rise in Coney, and the company is behind the lighting of the Parachute Jump and the restoration and operation of the B & B Carousell.