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The remains of go-kart rides demolished by Thor Equities await the city’s rezoning decision.
Last night, the somewhat unlikely pairing of the Municipal Art Society (representing white-haired Manhattan urban planning geeks) and Coney Island USA (representing a different kind of geek) sponsored “Coney Island On the Cusp of Change,” a panel discussion on the uncertain future of the city’s traditional low-rent amusement zone. Representatives of city agencies, developer Taconic Investment Partners, and the Coney Island History Project joined the sponsoring organizations to discuss everything from Coney’s storied past to the soon-to-be-restored B&B Carousell.
Once the questioning began, though, all eyes turned to one panelist: Lynn Kelly, president of the Coney Island Development Corporation, the quasi-public agency working on the long-awaited rezoning plan that will shape the neighborhood’s future. Questions ranged from what the new housing will look like (“we’re going to need to bring in some height and some density,” admitted Kelly) to why the city is planning to build more parking when the mayor has declared war on car travel (“the reality is
South Brooklyn still is largely a car culture”) to what the “enhanced amusement district” the CIDC envisions for north and east of Keyspan Park would look like (“restaurants, hotels, music venues, entertainment retail” – but “not a Gap, not an Ann Taylor”). With would-be condo developers Thor Equities only present as the elephant in the room, much of the evening’s fireworks potential was reduced – though Taconic’s Ari Shalam did pointedly note that though his company plans apartment buildings for the western edge of the redevelopment zone, “Everything we’re thinking about doing fits with [the CIDC] plan.”
Much about Coney’s future, though, remains a mystery, and will remain so until the CIDC finally spits out its rezoning recommendations. Asked her timetable for getting things rolling, Kelly replied, “Without sounding crass, the zoning will be done and ready to show when the zoning is done.”
Moving forward without vetting plans with both developers and local residents would be “premature,” she said, adding, “That said, I think we’re close.” (Kelly also expressed her irritation with news outlets that report this being the “last summer of Coney Island,” given that the Mermaid Parade, Cyclone, et al., will all be around in 2008. And yes, the Voice is guilty as charged. Kelly’s note to Summer Guide: Knock it off.)
Unfortunately, Kelly’s deliberate timetable may mean it will be the last summer for Astroland, which is being evicted by Thor from its home of 45 years at year’s end. Though owner Carol Hill Albert has been looking for a new site somewhere between the Cyclone and Keyspan Park – the area the CIDC has staked out for traditional amusements – she says that despite reports to the contrary, she’s not close to consummating any deals.
The holdup, she agrees, is less lack of vacant land – Coney Island is swimming in that – than the fact that the current private landholders don’t want to make any moves until they see the new zoning regs. “We can only wait so long before we have to decide to sell these rides, and we’ve already waited a long time,” she told the Voice earlier this week. “So we’re hoping that something can be worked out. That’s all we have is a little ray of hope here.”
Asked specifically about the future of Astroland last night, Kelly didn’t open Albert’s hope window much wider. “The reality is that there’s not a lot of land that the city owns in the amusement district,” Kelly said, and though the city does own several dead-end streets that conceivably could have rides set up on them, city procurement regulations make that difficult. “We’re talking about it with her. We’re going to try to find a solution. I can’t say we’re definitely going to have one.”