The debate over the Bloomberg administration’s plans to remake Coney Island is dashing toward a close, as the City Council is just days away from an expected vote (a subcommittee is tentatively scheduled to vote Monday, though these things often change at the last minute). And, with potentially just days left, city officials are still juggling a panoply of issues and demands raised by the long roster of groups that have come knocking at the administration’s door: landlords in the amusement area, developers who want to build residential, unions, low-income housing groups, amusement enthusiasts.
At the center, still, is Joe Sitt, the chairman of landlord Thor Equities who owns about 5 acres of land in the central amusement district that the city wants to control. He and his team have been meeting with top officials at City Hall for three straight days now in an attempt to strike a deal where the city takes a portion of or the entire piece of land. At least as of earlier Thursday afternoon, there was no deal. The local councilman, Domenic Recchia, has long been pressing for a resolution on this issue before a City Council vote.
There are the labor issues, as a large set of unions (32BJ; the Hotel & Motel Trades Council) each wants wage and other guarantees over future development, and, while everyone involved seems to think deals are likely, they aren’t there yet.
“Everything is fluid,” a union official involved in the discussion said. The Council is responsive to these concerns, particularly as election season nears, when union endorsements can be very helpful in contested elections.
There’s ACORN, the housing group, which is in the midst of negotiating a deal with the city over below-market-rate housing in the area.
AND THEN THERE’S WHAT is by far the loudest group of critics, but probably the least powerful politically: the Coney Island enthusiasts who are, above all else, trying to battle back elements of the Bloomberg plan that they think would ruin the spirit of Coney Island. This voice is not one single group but rather a patchwork of nonprofits involved with the issue (Coney Island USA, Save Coney Island, and the Municipal Art Society) that have similar complaints. They feel the city’s plan has far too little space set aside for new outdoor amusements (just 9 acres), and that a set of hotels in the central amusement zone would destroy the distinct character.
The unions, ACORN and the landlords all seem to be getting a seat at the table with the administration, but these groups seem to be scrambling to gain more attention and make enough noise to be heard (and listened to) as the clock ticks.
The groups have made a clever YouTube video; sent out constant emails urging residents to call their council members and the office of Council Speaker Christine Quinn; posted architectural renderings of an amusement district with hotels; and cobbled together a long list of historians, including filmaker Ric Burns, to criticize the city’s plans.
“The conversation has been understood as this struggle between Thor and the city, and what has been lost in all of that is that the underlying plan would be, as it currently stands, disastrous,” said Juan Rivero of Save Coney Island.
The strategy, Mr. Rivero said, has been to both urge the amusement enthusiast position on Mr. Recchia, and also to pressure other council members, who could, in turn, affect the debate on the issue. In recent days, he and others involved have met with 11 different council members or their aides, he said, urging big changes to the city’s plan.
“The reception has ranged,” Mr. Rivero said. “Some people have been extremely supportive and grasped the issues right away, but it has been qualified by different levels of deference to Domenic.”
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