Latest Coney Troubles: Unions, ‘Hundreds of Millions’ in Infrastructure

Thus far, between the freaks, the hunger strikes, the attacks via the media between city officials and a Brooklyn developer,

Thus far, between the freaks, the hunger strikes, the attacks via the media between city officials and a Brooklyn developer, the protestors brought in by the busloads to show up to an environmental scoping hearing (many of whom didn’t know where they were going), and the opposition by a civic group, the Bloomberg administration’s attempt to breathe new life into Coney Island has been, to use a cliché, a rollercoaster ride.

The plan has repeatedly morphed, and in the process, the Bloomberg administration has lost a big chunk of supporters (the “entertainment community,”) but then gained support of another (Domenic Recchia, a key Councilman), at least for a while.

In January, the city’s rezoning plan for the area—which calls for a huge buildup of retail, indoor and outdoor amusements, hotels, over 4,000 apartments and loads of parking—entered the public approval process, which ultimately requires a vote from the City Council. And as it goes before a local community board Tuesday evening (which, if history repeats itself, is sure to be entertaining), there are a few new twists, adding some hurdles.

Monday, a coalition of unions, community advocacy groups and elected officials announced their opposition to the project unless the city is able to meet their demands on four key categories of issues, which mostly call for better wages, more commitments to below-market rate housing, and a stronger amusement area. And Mr. Recchia? He’s now a supporter of the coalition, and apparently not the city.

“One of my top priorities in the redevelopment of Coney Island is that neighborhood residents play a role in all future plans,” Mr. Recchia said in a statement.  “I applaud this coalition for recognizing the importance of providing jobs and affordable housing to the community.  In order to move forward, it is paramount that the City recognizes this need as well.”

If last year’s approval fight over the Willets Point mixed-use development in Queens is any guide, these points are manageable, and they were expected to come up at some point in the process. But still, they make the job that much more difficult for the Bloomberg administration—now working in an era of strained budgets—which has plenty of other headaches to worry about with regard to this plan.

One that hasn’t received much attention: infrastructure.

The Bloomberg administration’s own environmental impact statement clearly states, major improvements would be needed to accommodate the growth the city expects. Among the most expensive improvements: sewers and water systems would need to be redone to accommodate the growth, and streets would need to be lifted up several feet.

To date, the city has not publicly given a specific cost estimate on these improvements (generally, the city gives infrastructure estimates for its other development initiatives, such as Willets Point and Hunters Point South), though the price tag is sure to be quite high.

Jesse Masyr, an attorney for Thor Equities, the major Coney Island landlord that is locked in a battle with the city, said he had been told an estimate by a city official who works on the project, Madelyn Wills.

“We were told by Madelyn Wils that the city infrastructure’s cost on Coney Island could be as much as $500 million,” he said.

David Lombino, a spokesman for the Economic Development Corporation, which runs the project for the city, was less specific, but said in a statement that the needed investment would be significant:

Any plan for revitalizing Coney Island will require a major infrastructure investment. You can’t develop thousands of units of housing, rebuild the amusement district, or create thousands of new jobs without a significant upgrade. Between investments in storm water systems, sewers, sanitation, utilities, roads, streetscapes, sidewalks, and raising the grade above the 100-year flood plain — all of this in an area that is larger than the proposed rezoning — it will likely cost the public and private sectors hundreds of millions of dollars over several years. Abandoning Coney Island is not an option and approving the city’s zoning plan is the only way that any of these critical investments will be made.

This pledge to invest hundreds of millions comes as the city’s capital budget has been slashed and stretched two years in a row (for context, next year’s entire capital plan calls for $7.1 billion in commitments of city funds). Be it $500 million or some other similar number, it is a very large chunk of money to be investing in a single development initiative (the city has already committed well over $100 million in funds for acquisitions and other efforts related to the area’s redevelopment).

Latest Coney Troubles: Unions, ‘Hundreds of Millions’ in Infrastructure