Summer may have ended last week, but the folks at Coney Island wish it could continue all year long. Thanks to the new Luna Park and some of the best weather anyone can remember, they’re bragging about one of the strongest seasons since Steeplechase Park closed almost half a century ago.
“I think it’s the rezoning and the hubbub and people realizing Coney Island isn’t going to be totally torn down for condos and doctors offices,” said Dick Zigun, the sideshowman head of Coney Island USA and the boardwalk’s de facto mayor. “I think it’s people realizing Coney Island is here to stay and it’s just going to get better and better.”
Zigun said that the box office for his Coney Island Circus Sideshow had totally rebounded from last year, when it was off 50 percent because of the absence of Astroland and uncertainty about Coney’s future. This makes it one of his best years ever, in a tie with 2008 and surpassed only by 2007—what many people thought would be Coney Island’s last summer because of the imminent threat posed by developer Joe Sitt. (The city bought out most of his holdings in the area last year, following Coney’s rezoning.)
Carol Albert, who runs the Cyclone and, before it closed, Astroland, said that she was also having one of her best years, “neck-and-neck with 2008, but not quite as good as 2007.” Like Zigun, she said sunshine played a huge role. “It’s very rare to get weather like this,” Albert said. “There was hardly any rain this year. It was just beautiful every weekend.” Zigun said he couldn’t recall anything like it in his 30 years at Coney.
Still, both agreed that the new Luna—named for its predecessor that famously burned down in the ‘40s—was the linchpin of this year’s booming season. “It was definitely the biggest Memorial Day weekend I can ever remember,” Albert said. It didn’t hurt that the mayor was there, as were $15 million worth of new rides from Italian firm Zamperla, which are being operated by Central Amusement International after winning a 10-year contract with the city to take over the 3.5-acre Astroland site.
In addition to its decades-old neighbors, Luna Park had a better year than expected, announcing its millionth rider on August 27—one Rogue Marek-Lewis, a 14-year-old from the Lower East Side who was enjoying the topsy turvy Air Race. “Our first season has been incredible, and we promise even more fun and thrills next year,” Valerio Ferrari, president of Central Amusement International, said at the time.
Part of the excitement surrounding next summer is the opening of the four-acre Scream Zone, which pushes Coney more than halfway toward the ultimate goal of a 12.5-acre amusement park along the boardwalk. The Scream Zone adds two new roller coasters, a reverse bungee ride called the Sling Shot that will launch riders 30-stories into the air, and a double-decker go-kart track. Albert says she welcomes the competition. “It’s like going shoe shopping,” she said. “Do you want to go to the street with one store or a bunch?”
As for Zigun, he is as excited about what’s going on outside the park as within it, pointing across the street from his headquarters on Surf Avenue. There, a Russian biker bar (Bratva), a private party space (Chill) and a strip joint (The Foxy Club) have opened in the past year-and-a-half. “They’re so much better than the illegal furniture stores that used to be there,” Zigun said. “We’re turning from an illegal furniture store district into a nightclub district. And it’s only going to get better.”
The Coney Summer is not yet over, either, as the Cyclone makes its last runs this weekend and Luna Park remains open through October. See you on the boardwalk.