The city is on thin ice with Coney Islanders, who are demanding that the Abe Stark Sports Center be kept under the Department of Parks and Recreation’s control if it is demolished and redeveloped under a 2009 rezoning of the area.
There are no plans on the drawing board yet, but the city — which has already signed off on the demolition of the beloved ice rink — is considering whether or not to bring in a private builder to redevelop it, which locals fear would make the new facility less accessible to the community, comparing it to the Aviator Sports Center, sitting on Federal park land at Floyd Bennett Field.
“When you say ‘private developer,’ I’m thinking about something like Aviator — which is expensive,” said Ida Sanoff. “If you have parkland, let the Parks Department handle it.”
Other locals echoed those concerns at a community meeting on Aug. 21 hosted by the Economic Development Corporation, which is leading the redevelopment.
“It can not go private,” said Matt David. “It’s got to be run by Parks.”
The redevelopment of the facility on the Riegelmann Boardwalk between W. 19th and W. 20th streets is part of the city’s plan to expand the amusement district along the Boardwalk, a major element of which will bring new rides and attractions to five parcels of land between W. 10th and W. 16th streets.
But some locals said the city could develop the area without even demolishing the Abe Stark center, which occupies only a small portion of the lot between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk next to MCU Park, which is mostly used for parking. One Coney Island father said he doesn’t want the city to refurbish the center at all, because he relies on it to keep his kids out of trouble.
“I pay a lot of money and work many hours to have my kids off the street, and Abe Stark is helping me do that,” Ignazao Veneziao said to applause at the meeting. “To have you tearing down this facility, you’re going to destroy my kids’ future.”
Representatives for the development agency had little to say to ease residents’ fears, with the city’s plans still in the early stages, but they assured locals that the city would have a strong role in the development of the new center, even if it is handed over to a private builder.
“I want to be clear that the city maintains a strong arm and a strong role in this project,” said Wil Fisher, a senior project manager at the economic agency. “We want a project that works for everybody.”
Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island) echoed his constituents’ worries that a privately developed center would become unaffordable for residents, and argued that the city can afford to handle the project itself.
“The city has a $4-billion surplus,” Treyger said. “This should be a public facility on public land.”
Treyger also complained that the city was not being transparent enough with community members about its plans. When he asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had not been aware that the city had been given permission to demolish the center in 2009, almost everyone in the standing-room-only audience raised their hand.
The Abe Stark Sports Center opened in 1970 and its ice rink has been used by local hockey teams and figure skaters ever since, and draws large crowds of amateur skaters when it is open to the public on weekends.
A 2009 rezoning opened the facility and the surrounding area up to redevelopment, the building of a new amusement park, and 5,000 units of affordable housing.
And private companies running facilities on public land is nothing new. Along with Aviator, which has been in business for more than a decade, Privately run Luna Park in Coney Island sits on city-owned parkland, along with the historic Cyclone and MCU Park, the baseball stadium that is home to the Brooklyn Cyclones.