Future of Coney Island in doubt

September 1, 2008 2:02:09 PM PDT
This summer could mark the end of Coney Island's historic Astroland amusement park. But is it for real, this time? In recent years, the redevelopment of the area has been on a seemingly endless roller-coaster ride into the future, amid bickering involving a developer, city officials and ride operators.

The owner of Astroland near the Brooklyn boardwalk says she'll shut down Sunday for good if the landowner doesn't offer a two-year lease. Carol Albert, who sold the land in 2006 to Joseph Sitt's Thor Equities, says park employees need more job security.

"They're emotional wrecks - it's hard to live on a precipice like this," says Albert, adding that several workers resigned recently.

In its 47th summer season, Astroland has 75 year-round employees and 275 seasonal workers.

Last year, the city announced a sweeping redevelopment plan for 47 acres of the shabby old Brooklyn seafront. Part of the plan detailed a 15-acre amusement park, with Sitt deciding whether the Astroland rides could stay on its property.

Thor, which owns 11 acres of Coney Island, had planned to break ground next year on a $1.5 billion complex including high-rise hotels, retail stores, movie theaters, an indoor water park and New York's first new roller coaster since the landmarked, wooden Cyclone was built 75 years ago.

Earlier this year, officials suddenly shrank the amusement zone to nine acres because property owners - mainly Sitt - would not give up the extra tracts of waterfront for the city-proposed park.

That angered community activists, who accused the developer and the city of trying to over-gentrify the so-called workingman's Riviera, where visitors can still find freak show attractions such as a fire eater and the Human Blockhead, who drives a drill into his face.

Last fall, Thor and Astroland agreed to a one-year lease extension that expires on Jan. 31. There have been no face-to-face talks this year, said Albert, whose family opened the park in the 1960s.

She now wants a lease for the summers of 2009 and 2010, since she believes the earliest Thor could break ground on new development would be in two years.

Proposals for the neighborhood have yet to be ironed out by all sides, with public hearings and environmental impact studies capped by a City Council vote.

A spokesman for Thor Equities, spokesman Stefan Friedman, did not return a call for comment on Monday.

No matter what happens, the storied Cyclone roller coaster and the Wonder Wheel are not leaving Coney Island anytime soon. They're landmarked.

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