Is Coney Island Worth Saving?

Of the dwindling seaside attractions still standing at Coney Island this summer, “Shoot the Freak” is perhaps best suited to the Brooklyn beach community’s exciting new demilitarized-zone motif.

From a platform off the old rickety boardwalk, patrons fire paintball guns at a slow-moving but well-padded masochist mingling amid the weeds and debris of an old vacant lot between two not-yet-demolished graffiti-covered buildings. In the background, beyond some vibrant “LIVE HUMAN TARGET” signage, lie the fenced-off ruins of the go-cart racetracks and batting cages torn down this past January.

“Shoot that freak in his freakin’ head!” boomed a bouncer-sized announcer challenging passers-by to join the freak-shooting action on Saturday afternoon; he laced his loud hawking with a sense of urgency: “This could be our last year, folks! They’re gonna tear us down and put up a parking lot.”

“Condos!” interjected one twentysomething hipster-spectator in dark sunglasses, adding an ironic “Awesome!”

Few operators along the Coney Island boardwalk even dare to discuss developer Joseph Sitt’s controversial plan for razing and reconstructing the ancient amusement district.

A gag order included in many retailers’ existing short-term leases actually prohibits it: “Licensee shall not engage in any activities intended to oppose or address the redevelopment or rezoning of Coney Island …. Licensee shall not make any statement to any person concerning or relating to the redevelopment activities.”

Even Tammy the Fortune Teller, whose curtained-off palm-reading booth presently sits within the planned demolition zone, declined to comment to The Observer on Coney Island’s future.

Yet Anthony Berlingieri, inventor and proud co-owner of “Shoot the Freak,” is outspoken on the controversy.

“I’m for the redevelopment,” Mr. Berlingieri told The Observer over Memorial Day weekend, the traditional opening salvo of summer—possibly Coney Island’s final summer as New York knows it. “Coney Island could definitely use a face-lift.”

Critics say that Mr. Berlingieri could use a muzzle. Other vendors along the boardwalk have branded him a traitor for all his recent pro-developer remarks to the press. Many are suspicious of the paintball purveyor’s seemingly cozy relationship with the bulldozer-revving landlord Mr. Sitt and his firm, Thor Equities.

Mr. Berlingieri readily acknowledged having personal dealings with the developer, though he wouldn’t describe himself as a collaborator so much as a survivalist.

Unlike other operators facing eviction this fall, he explained, “Shoot the Freak” has been promised a place amid the luxury condos, hotel, indoor water park and more upscale Disney-like attractions that Mr. Sitt has envisioned for the site. “I’ve been asked back,” Mr. Berlingieri said. “Joe Sitt called me personally at home.”

Is Coney Island Worth Saving?