Will City Land Swap Make Coney Squabble Vanish?


A reported land swap would preserve Coney Island’s amusement area—and give Joe Sitt a nice little windfall.
Photo: Wallyg via flickr

In a Coney Island summer that has mostly been devoted to rumors and the report of rumors – Carol Albert is putting Astroland’s rides on the block! Now she’s taking them off again! – yesterday’s report of an attempted deal between the city and developer Joe Sitt has more intrigue than most. As the Post reported yesterday (and the Voice has confirmed through its own sources), Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff has made a last-ditch offer to break the stalemate over Coney’s redevelopment plan: The city would swap the Abe Stark skating rink and parking lot adjacent to Keyspan Park to Sitt for his land in the amusement district, which the city could then lease or sell to ride operators.

In recent weeks, it’s become increasingly clear that the city has no interest in letting Sitt’s Thor Equities build its proposed condos-and-giant-elephants development, considering that when the developer offered to substitute time shares for condos, the head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation dismissed it as a “wolf dressed up as a sheep.” Coney Island Development Corporation president (and EDC vice-president) Lynn Kelly told the Voice last week that “the mayor, the borough president, and the city councilmember are all lockstep in line with the vision” of a revamped amusement district that would ban condos but allow restaurants, catering halls, and movie theaters—”it doesn’t mean you have to be outside on a roller coaster in February, but you still have opportunities to come out year-round.”

Deputy Dan’s proposed land swap would neatly snip this Gordian knot, giving Thor land that is slated to be zoned for residential buildings, in exchange for the heart of the amusement district. (The actual rezoning process isn’t expected to begin until next month at the earliest.) While Sitt would be giving up about 10 acres of land and getting about 8 acres farther from the Stillwell Avenue subway hub in exchange—something that’s provoked much skepticism on the Coney Island USA bulletin board—he’d still likely come out ahead in the deal.

While real estate valuation is more black art than science, it’s possible to make some informed speculation about the relative worth of the parcels that would be exchanged. Consider: Sitt sold the Washington Baths site, which sits just west of the Abe Stark site, to Taconic Investments last summer for $90 million, which comes to about $23 million an acre. Since the CIDC had already made clear at the time of that sale that that site
would be rezoned for condos, it’s fair to assume that land right across the street with similar zoning would carry a similar price tag. That would make the Stark site worth upwards of $180 million—a 157% profit on the roughly $70 million Sitt spent to assemble his amusement district holdings. Or, to put it another way, the city would be paying off Sitt with a $110 million windfall to make his”rezone or I shoot this amusement district” act go away.

Neither the city nor Thor will comment publicly on the land-swap story, so it’s anyone’s guess whether the deal will be consummated. Astroland owner Albert, though, is cautiously elated, if that’s an emotion, telling the Voice that the city’s offer “should be heralded as an unprecedented, remarkable effort to save Coney Island for future generations, whatever that amusement configuration might be.” And could that configuration include a resurrected Astroland on the city’s new property? “Absolutely,”
says Albert. “If it were offered to us, we’d be thrilled.”