In Coney Island’s long and infamous history — complete with suspicious fires, shysters, and midnight tear-downs — little compares to what the increasingly infamous Joe Sitt did last week.
Sitt, you’ll recall, is the man who started buying up land in the faded “People’s Playground” a few years ago and successfully consolidated quite a nice bit of Boardwalk-side property.
He said he wanted to build a 24-7, Vegas-style theme park that would include all-year rides, attractions, hotels, shops and, yes, new amusements. If it happened the way Sitt promised, Coney would indeed be a better place — and we said so in many editorials.
But over time, it has become clear that Sitt’s only goal in Coney Island was to make a killing on his property by forcing the city’s hand and then getting a buyout from Mayor Bloomberg, who said that Sitt was merely a land speculator who had no intention of building a new Coney Island Xanadu in the spirit of the old Luna Park and Dreamland.
Apparently, the mayor was right along along. Sitt is clearly no Barnum-like mirth-maker, no Disney-esque family entertainer. It’s unclear if he could even run a kiddie park properly.
Last summer, for example, Sitt promised rides and attractions on his land — but the amusements were paltry, and they didn’t even last the entire season.
Then, on the eve of Christmas, he locked out some of his Boardwalk tenants — including one who had the nerve to criticize him publicly. Then, he refused to grant Astroland a one-year lease extension that would have allowed the historic, Space Age theme park to continue operating and giving a modicum of life along the Boardwalk.
Instead, Sitt promised a summer festival that included an amusement park run by longtime Coney player Anthony Raffaele. That festival got off to a slow start and never became a true tourist attraction, but at least it provided rides and games and other odes to Coney’s vital history as a place for summer fun.
But last week, with several key weeks still left in the summer, Sitt locked out the amusement operators, citing a fairly minor rent dispute with Raffaele that could have easily been settled in a few weeks, after the crowds of bumber-car-riding kids had gone back to school.
Instead, Sitt now has acres and acres of vacant land that are doing nothing for anybody. Meanwhile, the mayor is close to buying a large part of Sitt’s land for about $100 million — tens of millions more than the speculator paid for it just a few years ago.
Apparently, that’s all Joe Sitt wanted. But for the rest of us, it’s another lost summer at Coney Island. That’s Joe Sitt’s fault. Again.