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article imageHigh-Priced Land Deal Could Bring Coney Island Back to NYC

By Joan Firstenberg     Nov 11, 2009 in Entertainment
New York City's Coney Island could be making a big,splashy return in the next few years. The city has decided to pay a developer who bought the land a few years ago and did nothing with it, $95.8 billion.
Finally, after years of bickering over how the city could get back the land that was once Coney Island, the New York Times reports that the Bloomberg administration says it will pay developer Joseph J. Sitt a whopping $95.8 million for seven acres of the property. The city will announce the deal tomorrow, but the reality of a new Coney Island park is till far, far away.
In 2005, Mr. Sitt began buying land in Coney Island, with the promise that he would erect a modern Las Vegas style resort, containing hotels and condominiums along with the amusement park rides. But nothing was ever done. And all that is still left in what used to be Coney Island is the Cyclone roller coaster, the Wonder Wheel and Nathan's Hot Dog Stand.
One of the problems in making a deal was that Mr. Sitt was asking for $140 million for over 10 of the 12 acres he was the owner of. The city wound up making an offer for just 6.9 acres. But that comes to over $300 per square foot, considered very big bucks in the current marketplace. Mr. Sitt, who is the chief executive of Thor Equities, says he plans to develop hotels and stores on the 5.6 acres he still owns, even as the city does its developing.
City officials say they plan to begin soliciting offers for an interim amusement operator right away. And in a first step in this direction, the Bloomberg administration will be sending representatives to the annual convention of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions in Las Vegas next week.
Mayor Bloomberg has made it no secret that he'd like to see the area turned into a year-round destination, with skyscraper hotels, restaurants, stores, movie theaters and a brand new roller coaster...which would be the city's first since 1927 when the Coney Island Cyclone was built.
But other New Yorkers have other ideas about what a new Coney Island should be.
Michael Immerso, author of “Coney Island, the People’s Playground.” says,
“Coney’s stock in trade has always been beach and the Boardwalk working in tandem with the amusements. I’d urge them to focus on reclaiming the Boardwalk and beach as a seasonal amusement center.”
The $95.6 million that the city is paying to Mr. Sitt covers 6.9 acres. Most of the land is along the famous Boardwalk, between the Cyclone and KeySpan Park, and it includes the former home of the Astroland amusement park. Dennis Vourderis, who's family still runs the only amusement park left, Dino's and the Wonder Wheel, which is a city landmark approves of the city's choice of property.
“I think the city made a good choice in buying the land in order to the area along the boardwalk for amusements forever. It won’t be threatened by the development of apartments, shopping malls, or anything else. Now the question is, Who do we bring in to build this billion dollar amusement park."
The Bloomberg administration is vowing that it will not allow the land to lie fallow. It says it plans to invest money in fixing up the nearby Aquarium, designating up to 12 acres for amusements, renovating Steeplechase Plaza, creating a new park and installing a renovated wooden carousel.
The tough negotiations to rebuild Coney Island have been going on for months, even though the New York City Council approved a bill to do that last July.
More about Amusement park, Brooklyn, Coney island
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