Like Ebbets Field, the automat and the 10-cent subway fare, Coney Island conjures memories of another era in this city’s history. But for a generation of New Yorkers who came of age in the latter part of the 20th century, Coney Island represents little more than an unremembered past, a bleak present and an uncertain future. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg put it, the old resort has “fallen on hard times.”
With any luck, that’s about to change. Plans are in the works for an enormous, well-planned investment in Coney Island. That’s the good news. The bad news is that City Hall and a private developer have conflicting ideas about how to proceed. While both the Bloomberg administration and the developer, Joseph J. Sitt, have similarly ambitious goals, their plans differ in an important detail: Mr. Sitt wants to construct hotels, time-share units and an indoor water park within a 15-acre tract that would be the heart of a revived amusement area. The city believes this is a formula for conflict between visitors and the amusement park’s operators over noise and other potential disruptions.
Mr. Sitt has purchased about 10 acres in the neighborhood’s main amusement area, at a cost of some $120 million. The overall redevelopment plan includes about 47 acres and would include housing, retail space and construction of a revived amusement park that would be worthy of Coney Island’s place in American history as a seaside resort for the people.
Wonderful as these plans are, they could easily fall apart if City Hall insists on butting heads with Mr. Sitt, who, after all, already has made a substantial financial commitment to Coney Island’s revival. Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff did not exactly set a tone of give-and-take recently when he said rather dismissively that Mr. Sitt “doesn’t have the experience” necessary to operate an amusement park. The city has been trying to get Mr. Sitt to trade his 10 acres in Coney Island’s main amusement area for property in another part of the neighborhood. He has refused, saying that the land is not of comparable value.
To his credit, Mr. Sitt has not responded in kind, but has had only conciliatory and hopeful comments about his relationship with the city. He does, however, insist that his plan for hotels and time shares is necessary to make the project economically viable. What’s more, his plan for an indoor water park would make Coney Island a year-round attraction. Similar facilities in the nearby Poconos, for example, are flourishing, attracting families from the city and nearby suburbs 12 months a year.
Both Mr. Sitt and the city clearly wish the best for Coney Island, and both have offered plans that would transform the old resort. Mr. Sitt’s plan merits serious discussion and comparative studies with other world-class resorts.
Just as important, both Mr. Sitt and City Hall have to avoid getting dragged into a feud that would doom this promising vision for a great New York landmark. Talk it over, and get it done.
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