Astroland Dead, Did Not Fall at Hands of The Warriors

Everyone who claims to have legitimately enjoyed Coney Island's Astroland while nervously worrying for their safety on rides which were eventually going to off someone can now relax, they no longer have to pretend to enjoy it for its kitch New York Value. It's dead. Supposedly.

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Actual Honest-to-God New Rides Coming to Coney in May, New Coasters in 2011

Categories: Coney, Featured

Photo by Neil deMause
In what's becoming a bit of a Coney Island tradition, City Hall officials shlepped out to Brooklyn in a slushstorm today to make the long-rumored announcement that the Italian firm Zamperla has been tapped to open a new amusement park in Coney to replace the dearly departed Astroland. Actually, two new amusement parks: Luna Park (named in part to honor the classic Coney park that burned down in 1946, and in part because that's what they're all called in Italy) will open on the old Astroland site this summer, and the less-historically-monikered "Scream Zone" will follow in 2011.

"Coney Island is coming back, big time!" declared Mayor Bloomberg at a packed press conference next to the stingray tank at the New York Aquarium. Dead silence. "I hear some cheers out there!" And there was much rejoicing.

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Interview: Dick Zigun, Mayor of Coney Island, on What's Good and Not So Good About the City's Coney Plans

Photo (c) Robert Schaffer.

Dick Zigun is the artistic director of Coney Island USA. His Sideshows by the Seashore not only features the last "10 in One" sideshow, but showcases burlesque, houses a museum, and plays hosts to many events, including the Coney Island Film Festival, and is the headquarters of the Mermaid Parade, which Zigun helped create. He's been a Coney resident for over 30 years, a tireless Coney enthusiast -- "the place where the hot dog, the roller coaster, and soft ice cream was invented," he proclaims -- and advocate for its interests, and has long been considered its unofficial mayor.

I recently met wet with Zigun to discuss the future of Coney Island. First I asked him how a kid from Bridgeport, Connecticut wound up in Coney.

"I got out of grad school in 1979," he told me, "and I was hanging out in L.A., and I got influenced by this play, 'Kid Twist' which took place in Coney, so I came to New York. Where else could I go with two degrees in theater but New York? I started checking out neighborhoods, Tribeca, South Street Seaport, even Times Square, and I had this wacky idea to check out loft spaces in Coney Island, found something I liked, signed a lease in 1979, spent months renovating it. And then it burned down."

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Sitt, City Close Coney Island Deal: About 7 Acres for Us, $95.6 Million for Him

Categories: Coney, Featured
Developer Joe Sitt and his Thor Equitiies closed that deal with the city they set up in November that gives New York 6.9 acres of beachfront property and Sitt $95.6 million which, as Neil de Mause earlier reported, means he's already made back his investment and still has six acres of Coney to play around with.

"In the end, we all wanted the same thing," said Sitt in a statement, which made our ears perk up: was he going to reveal collusion to enrich Joe Sitt? Alas, he said it was "to return Coney Island to its historic grandeur and prosperous past." Well, Sitt's had a funny way of going about it, closing rides for late rent and leaving stretches of the place in wreckage for long periods, but now he has less territory to realize his ruinous dream, and the city has more. Bring on the hole to China!

Battlin' Wally Backman to Manage the Cyclones

We have long hoped Wally Backman, the obstreperous veteran of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets, would someday manage the Amazin's in the balls-out manner he evinced on the field and in court depositions. He's a step closer now, as the Mets organization announced yesterday that Backman will manage the Brooklyn Cyclones, New York's Short-Season-A farm team at Coney Island. Backman was hired in 2004 by the Arizona Diamondbacks to manage in the bigs, then fired when they found out about his DUI and domestic-violence arrests. He's also been known, in his previous minor-league managing career, to throw a few bats and threaten an announcer. Just the man this mopey franchise needs! We hope he's on the fast track to the big job, though he may have some '86-vintage competition: the Mets have also promoted Tim Teufel to manage their double-A team, the Binghamton Mets.

Update: Backman interviewed! "When I was in New York, we took winning and losing personally... I'd like to have 30 guys that played like I played: hard." W00t!

ISO: Amusement Park Operator (Ask For Mike B.)

Categories: Coney, Featured

Thumbnail image for Thor Acquisition Map 111209.JPG
Now that it has seven acres of Coney Island beachfront property in its mitts, the city isn't wasting time gearing up for next summer. In addition to inviting Lola Staar to return, today the Economic Development Corporation posted on its website a 54-page Request for Proposals for an interim amusement park operator for its new funland. Among the highlights:

  • The winning bidder is expected to, at the very least, open an amusement park on the former Astroland site by mid-May of next year. Though separate bids for the smaller chunks of land on either side of Stillwell Avenue will be considered, a single bid for all three parcels is "preferred."
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City Buys Sitt Land, But Coney Future Still Hazy

Categories: Coney, Featured

Thor Acquisition Map 111209.JPG

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.

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City to Buy 7 Acres of Coney Boardwalk Property from Sitt

Categories: Coney, Featured

It's long been assumed that developer Joe Sitt, who's been letting his vast holdings in Coney Island go all to hell, has been holding out for the best price he can get from the city, which has repeatedly shown interest in buying it. Today, a breakthough: it's reported that New York will pay $95.6 million for seven acres on the boardwalk. To help you visualize it: on these terms, the property on which Ruby's Bar sits would be worth about $2 million. The land is expected to be devoted to amusements.

The city had previously offered $105 million for ten acres of Sitt's holdings, which the sale suggests was the ceiling price. Sitt was holding out for $165 million.

Sitt's still got about five and a half acres to play with, so we'll see if his claims that he wants to make a Vegas-style strip out of it were just bullshit. Photo (cc) BLH Photography.

Another Brooklyn Indignity: Phantom of the Opera Comes to Coney Island

The terrible thing about the alleged new coolness of Brooklyn -- aside from the escalating rents and increasing population of young collegiate dolts -- is that the outside world is now bringing its aesthetic hideosities to our tree-lined streets. First it was the threat of a Brooklyn Sex & The City that curdled our blood. Now we learn that schlockmeister Andrew Lloyd Webber wants to do a sequel -- or, as he likes to think of it, a "standalone piece" based on "unfinished business" -- that will bring the Phantom of the Freaking Opera to Coney Island.

In Love Never Dies, set to open in London in March (we are certainly doomed to see it here eventually), the Phantom, who lost his true love in the long-running original, will "haunt the fairgrounds of Coney Island, far across the Atlantic," at the turn of the last century while wearing (the CD cover suggests) Marilyn Manson makeup. Moo-wa-ha-ha! See the man in the mask ride the Steeplechase! While singing about how lonely he is! Mayhap he will kidnap a sassy bathing beauty from the Lower East Side. Moo-wa-ha-retch.

We might have gone for it had Webber used the title he once heard suggested for the sequel: "Ugly Bastard 2." As it is, we'll only relent it the show is performed at Coney, and has an interactive Shoot-The-Freak feature.

Coney Has Elephant-Washing Scandal, and One More Weekend of Dreamland

elephantrestsmall.jpgThe Coney Island edition of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, "Boom a Ring," finishes up on Monday, and is going out with something less than a bang: its $20 tickets are on sale for $8. And a publicity stunt for the circus has drawn criticism from the Uniformed Firefighters Association. On Wednesday firefighters from Coney's Engine Company 245 hosed down an elephant for news cameras. The union protests that this took the company off duty for 30 minutes, constituting a public danger, and implied that City Hall forced the decision. FDNY denies this, and says the firemen were only supposed to hose the animal en passant, not close the station.

Well, at least Coney's Dreamland will be open for the weekend. The agglomeration of rides and attractions was locked down for non-payment of rent last week, but after a dressing-down by councilmember Dominic Recchia -- normally a buddy of Coney supervillain and Dreamland landlord Joe Sitt, but moved on this occasion to compare his operation to the Gestapo -- Sitt has allowed Dreamland a weekend pass. Enjoy Coney while you can, folks! Next year it may all be under construction.