Coney Island “developer” Joe Sitt, the local boy who owns a large portion of the People’s Playground but has yet to build anything atop it, is again bringing a flea market to his Stillwell Avenue lots in a scheme similar to one that failed miserably in 2009 — and other stakeholders in the area say it’s time for the his company, Thor Equities, to actually put a shovel in the ground.
“The lots aren’t being used properly,” said Dick Zigun, who runs the all-year-round Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore. “There should be year-round entertainment there.”
Some say that the lots, which are about the size of two football fields and are located on both sides of Stillwell Avenue below Surf Avenue, should house things like bowling alleys, movie theaters and restaurants — not an outdoor fair that will end in October. The lots’ zoning permits a temporary fair ground, but that usage doesn’t gel with the city’s vision for a glitzy Coney Island that thrives through the winter.
“It’s a travesty and not what Coney Island is about,” said Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance founder Robert Burstein. “People come to Coney Island for an amusement experience, not flea markets.”
The BK Festival is slated to launch May 15 in the Sitt-owned vacant lots and will feature carnival acts, games, food booths, inflatable bounce houses and about 120 retail vendors that operated at the now-defunct Aqueduct Flea Market in Queens, which closed after more than 30 years to make way for a casino. The BK Festival’s format is similar to Sitt’s much-hyped temporary fair, which failed to open the 25 rides it had originally promised and disappointed locals with its cheap market offerings.
But the company Sitt booked to run the BK Festival — former Aqueduct Flea Market management — says that the new fair will be more high-end than Festival by the Sea.
“We’ll have upscale retail and there won’t be any second-hand clothes,” said BK Festival Director Will McCarthy. “Don’t connect 2009 with what we’re doing — the difference is like night and day.”
McCarthy touted the BK Festival attractions that he’s most excited about, which will include a booth for healthy cooking demos and magic shows.
This isn’t the first time that Sitt’s projects have clashed with both the city and the community. In the summer of 2008, Sitt’s self-described “Summer of Hope” carnival turned into the “Summer of Nope” when the carnies packed up early. That same season, Astroland closed because of a contract dispute with longtime operator Carol Albert.
And in November 2009, the city bought seven acres of property that Sitt had owned since 2005 to pursue Mayor Bloomberg’s redevelopment vision. Buying out Sitt was a key component of the Bloomberg administration’s plan to jump-start the long-stalled renaissance of Coney Island.
Sitt had his own vision of a $2-billion, 24-7-365-day-a-year Xanadu with hotels, malls, new rides and indoor attractions, but city officials refused to talk to him about the zoning change Sitt would need.
Sitt still owns five acres of Coney, but has never built anything. The BK Festival is set for a single season run, though there’s no word yet on if Sitt is planning something more permanent than an outdoor flea for the Stillwell Avenue lots, according to his spokesman Stefan Friedman.