City Buys Sitt Land, But Coney Future Still Hazy
It was, Mayor Bloomberg said more than once, "a day people probably thought never would arrive." After more than a year of negotiations and at least one false positive, the mayor and developer Joe Sitt took to the Blue Room podium today to announce that Sitt's Thor Equities has agreed to sell 6.9 acres of its beachfront property to the city for incorporation in a new "amusement district." Said the mayor in announcing the deal: "This really is a win-win-win for everybody."
What the city gets: The entire parcel formerly known as Astroland, as well as Sitt's land on either side of Stillwell Avenue running from the Boardwalk (including Ruby's and other beachfront stores) to a new east-west street the city wants to build called "Wonder Wheel Way." What Sitt gets: $95.6 million, plus he retains title to all his other properties along Surf Avenue and the Bowery — meaning the deal has enabled him to recoup his $100 million investment in Coney land (even not counting the $77 million profit he got from flipping an earlier Coney parcel to Taconic Investment Partners in 2005), while effectively getting several acres of prime real estate rezoned for hotel towers for free.
Reaction from longtime Coney denizens is mostly optimism at the possibility that this could be the stalemate that has led to the piecemeal destruction of the amusement area in recent years, tempered by the recognition that Sitt — and his hotel tower plans — are now official partners in the city's plans. "I'm happy with anything that preserves Coney Island," Coney Island historian and activist Charles Denson told the Voice following the mayor's press conference. "But none of this changes the fact that there are going to be 26 30-story buildings in the [historic] amusement area."
Coney's immediate future, though, could well look much like its immediate past: Temporary rides and vacant lots. While the mayor's office said it's putting out a Request For Proposals for a temporary amusement operator for as soon as next spring, it's unlikely anything much more significant than last summer's circus tent and carnival attractions could be set up by then. (Though one hopes that whatever the city comes up with will be less sad than last summer's, or at the very least pays its rent.) Longer-term, the city plans on issuing a second RFP for a permanent amusement operator to run its new acquisition, but it's unknown how long that will take.
Thor spokesman Stefan Friedman says until that happens, there won't be any high-rises going up on Thor's Coney properties, which include both the Henderson Building east of Stillwell and the Grashorn Building, Coney's oldest remaining structure. "Once the amusements come in, then you can do some of the hotels and other things," says Friedman, saying Thor intends to "follow the mayor's lead here."
Then there's the question on everyone's minds — now that the city owns the Astroland site, is there any chance of a revival of Astroland, currently languishing in storage? Astroland owner Carol Hill Albert, who currently runs the Cyclone under a city contract, called it "a very exciting purchase," but wouldn't say if she intends to put in a bid to install rides at her old site, saying she'll need to wait to see the details of the city's RFP.