Coney's Giant Rat Stays In Out of the Rain
Joe Sitt's much-hyped Festival By The Sea, famed of story and subway ads, was supposed to have its grand opening this weekend, but it was called on account of rain. Or alleged rain: Total precipitation for Friday and Saturday was less than a tenth of an inch, so skeptics will be forgiven for wondering if the real reason was more along the lines of tent issues.
That said, enough was on hand to get a glimpse of what will be in store next weekend, when — barring drizzle — the Festival is now scheduled to get off the ground.
On Sitt's land on either side of Stillwell Avenue, former site of the batting cages and mini-golf course the developer razed two years ago, a pair of enormous tents stand half-finished, with lines on the ground marking off where flea market stalls will go. (As of Friday only the tent supports had been erected, as a sole worker watched his unattended mini-steamroller roll slowly backwards in gear; "I don't even want to think about how many safety regulations that violates," one passerby remarked.) What will go in the stalls remains to be seen — it hasn't gone unnoticed that those subway ads are still calling for applications for spaces — let alone whether whatever does show up will fly with zoning regulations.
Two blocks west, on the site of Sitt's most infamous purchase, the former site of Astroland now hosts a handful of carny games (a $5 fishing-pole game seemed outrageous even by Coney standards, even with an "every kid wins" guarantee) and sideshows of the grind show variety: There's a "headless woman" (though her painted image, oddly, features a normally headed gal) and, near the rubble of the water flume, a fake dumpster promising a "100-lb. giant rat" (presumably not that one) that "drinks gallons of water daily"!
Occupying the old Astroland arcade, meanwhile, is John Strong's World of Wonders, imported from California ostensibly to compete with Sitt adversary Dick Zigun's Sideshows By The Seashore. Unlike Zigun's performers, Strong's "wonders" seem to consist mostly of the world's largest assortment of two-headed animals.
A few more attractions were still packed up along the fringes of the old Astroland, but judging from the Geren Rides trailer parked nearby, expect the same collection of county-fair-type rides that Sitt opened, then closed early last summer.
(Finally, before anyone accuses the Voice of ignoring this: All the non-Astroland, non-Sitt sections of old-school Coney Island are still really open, including the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel, the Eldorado "bump your ass off!" bumper cars, and more mozzarepa stands than you can shake a stick at.)
The going conspiracy theory has been that Sitt's main goal with all this is to show that he's done due diligence to prove he can't make money off his Coney land via amusements, the better to demand a variance from the city's new rezoning plan, which would otherwise disallow the condo towers he wants to build at beachside. (It would also now, after Marty Markowitz's intercession, ban big-box stores as well.) In either case, with the rezoning clock scheduled to run down sometime this fall, next summer should be a whole new ballgame in Coney — so if you want to see yourself some 100-lb. rat, don't wait too long.