Monday, June 18, 2007

Coney Island Plan Is Scaled Back, but Critics Are Skeptical - New York Times 

Coney Island Plan Is Scaled Back, but Critics Are Skeptical - New York Times

A revitalization of Coney Island has been discussed for many years. For various reasons, attempts to "modernize" Coney Island have never come to fruition. One of the biggest obstacles to a Coney Island development has been opposition from local residents and community leaders.

This latest project seems to have come a lot further than its unlucky forbears. While the plan to remake Coney Island has undergone fits and starts this one looks to be the most promising. Coney Island has not weathered the test of time very well and is in desperate need of a facelift.

Hopefully, this project which harkens progress will be the kind of development that can restore glory to historic Coney Island.

The developer who wants to remake Coney Island’s amusement district has a new plan and says that you’re going to love it.

The developer Joseph J. Sitt’s $1.5 billion plan for Coney Island includes a pulsating amusement area and three hotels, with architecture that invokes the old Luna Park and Dreamland.

Joseph J. Sitt, who says his company has spent $120 million buying up land underneath and around the rides, said on Friday that he had “rolled over” in response to the criticism of his earlier plans for an entertainment and residential complex.

So the looming 40-story tower planned for the Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue is gone. So are the hundreds of rental apartments and luxury condominiums in the old plan. The new proposal is less dense, he said, but has more of “the new, the edgy, and the outlandish” rides and attractions that America’s first resort was once known for.

“This is our way of showing the New York community that we’re responsive to what they want,” said Mr. Sitt, the founder and chief executive of Thor Equities, which buys and develops commercial, residential and retail properties nationwide. “Our design, in all its greatness, is a way of showing the world what Coney Island can be.”

Who could complain?


Robert Lieber, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, described Mr. Sitt’s new plan as a “wolf dressed up as a sheep.” Mr. Lieber, along with neighborhood leaders and other city officials, had expressed fears that residents of new apartment buildings would not fit comfortably with the noisy, all-hours amusement district that would be preserved between West Eighth Street and the Aquarium and the minor league baseball stadium at West 16th Street.

The new plan keeps the concept of a new glass-enclosed water park, but instead of apartments calls for three hotels, including more than 400 time-share units, along with restaurants, shops, movie theaters and high-tech arcades. The latest renderings depict a pulsating entertainment complex with an Elephant Colossus statue and architecture that evokes the old Luna Park and Dreamland amusement parks.

Mr. Lieber and others say that the time-share units look an awful lot like apartments and that the complex looks more like a mall than Coney Island.

“He came in last week and presented a plan that had essentially the same density, but dressed it up with hotels and time shares,” Mr. Lieber said on Friday. “The building heights still exceed the 271-foot Parachute Jump,” a Coney Island landmark. “And he’s looking for a huge subsidy from the city. North of $100 million.”

The city has been working with local residents and property owners for nearly three years on a master plan for what everyone agrees is a dowdy area. The idea, they say, is to preserve the democratic, open-air quality of Coney Island’s culture and amusement district on the south side of Surf Avenue, while allowing for high-rise residential and retail development set apart from the rides, on the north side of Surf.

The Economic Development Corporation, along with the City Planning Department and the Coney Island Development Corporation, have been devising a rezoning proposal for Coney Island that will go through a public review process later this year.

“The community and the Coney Island Development Corporation have all indicated that residential and amusements don’t go together,” said Chuck Reichenthal, district manager of Community Board 13.

But Mr. Sitt says he believes the changes being proposed are too restrictive and would undercut his ability to redevelop the area.


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