Locked in a stalemate with a developer over the future of Coney Island, city officials unveiled a new vision for the area that seemingly solves the problem: Make the disputed land into parkland. The parcel of Coney that includes the much-beloved Astroland would keep its current amusement zoning but it would be expanded to include music venues, an Imax theater and restaurants, according to the long-awaited Coney Island Development Corporation plan unveiled today.
From the mayor prepared remarks:
Third and finally, there’s what we call Coney East. It’s the area bounded by West 8th and West 19th Streets, Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk. It’s Coney Island’s existing warm weather amusement district. But outdated zoning severely restricts what can be done here. It’s current zoning, for example, prohibits enclosed amusements or even sit-down restaurants. In fact, the only year-round destination in this part of Coney Island is Nathan’s, and I think that after all these years, Nathan’s would like some company. But unfortunately, like Coney North and Coney West, this area is marred by vacant land. It also lacks east-west connections between its principal attractions, like the Aquarium, the Cyclone, and the Parachute Jump. So we propose to map the 15 acres of Coney East as new City parkland. That effect would be dramatic: It would preserve the world’s most famous urban amusement park in perpetuity. And when you combine that with the Aquarium and with KeySpan Park, we will have 50 contiguous acres of public park with the best in recreation that Brooklyn, or New York, has to offer.
As might be expected, Thor Equities, which owns a sizable portion of the land in question and unveiled its own unpopular $1.5 billion-plan to build hotels and amusements along the beach did not like the mayor’s solution.
Thor said in a statement:
We’re disappointed by the Mayor’s presentation, but are optimistic that a deal can be reached between the city, the landowners and the community to make Coney Island an even greater place to live and visit. We will continue to work with the Bloomberg Administration, Councilman Recchia, Speaker Quinn, our Albany representatives and local leaders to do what’s best for the people of Coney Island.
The mayor’s full remarks follow:
“Good afternoon everyone. Thank you very much for those kind words. It’s also great to see Dominic, Daniel and Carl, whom we really miss at City Hall. But our loss is definitely Brooklyn’s gain. And before I say another thing, or eat another bite, I want to congratulate the Russo family on the 100th anniversary of a great New York institution: Gargiulo’s. Thanksgiving is just two weeks from today, so let’s all give thanks that Gargiulo’s is set for another hundred years of serving some of the best veal Milanese in town!
“While we’re at it, let’s also give thanks for everything else that’s going great in Brooklyn. So, for example, let’s hear it for the Edward R. Murrow High School chess team: National champs for the fourth year in a row! And then there are the Brooklyn Cyclones. They not only set new attendance records with nearly 300,000 fans this year; they also ran away with their division in the New York-Penn League! And let’s not forget the cutest bundle of blubber this side of the Arctic Circle. You know, after lunch at Gargiulo’s, that could describe how a lot of us feel about ourselves. But of course, I’m talking about: Akituusaq, the New York Aquarium’s new baby walrus, who melted the hearts of millions starring in the Today Show’s ‘name that walrus’ contest. Although I wish they’d picked something a little easier to say!
“So now a walrus grows in Brooklyn—and it’s not alone. This year, as it does every year, Brooklyn will lead the city in new babies, and not just walrus babies, either. I mean cute, cuddly human babies. Brooklyn is a family-oriented borough, and that’s a big reason why at more than 2.5 million people and growing, Brooklyn is bigger than Philadelphia; bigger than Houston; and bigger than Detroit and San Diego combined. Brooklyn also continues to grow because it remains what it has always been: A magnet for immigrants.
“Whether they’re Chinese or Haitian; Ukrainian or Syrian, or from any other point on the globe, they’ve all come here for freedom and opportunity. And Brooklyn welcomes them with open arms. Walk the streets of Brooklyn, and you see people of every nationality, ethnicity, and religion. They give this borough its wonderful vitality, and its bright future. And the fact that they live together in such harmony is no accident. It’s a tribute to the spirit that you, the elected and civic leaders of Brooklyn, work so hard to create and maintain.
“There’s a spirit of hope as well as harmony in Brooklyn today. The borough is really moving forward. And even while we’ve worked to make City government more accountable and increase efficiencies for today, we’ve also made a deliberate, consistent effort to think about the future and to invest in our long-term growth and stability. And that includes Brooklyn, big time!
“We’re proud that the half-billion dollar modernization of Kings County Hospital, the biggest project in our public hospital system’s history, is moving toward completion.
We’re excited that the new 1,600-seat high school that the Sunset Park community has been waiting for for so long is on course to open for classes in 2009. We’re thrilled that the Brooklyn Children’s Museum is putting the final touches on its $46 million expansion, with a grand reopening next spring.
“We’re committing $50 million to renovating McCarren Pool in Greenpoint; $40 million to restoring Drier Offerman Park here in Coney Island, and Marty and our Administration have teamed up to help fund two great new outdoor ice skating rinks in Prospect Park. That’ll be one for me, and one for you, Marty.
“Private investment is up all across Brooklyn, too. For the third year in a row, Brooklyn is setting the pace among the five boroughs for new housing permits. And today, more people, some 426,000 men and women, work at jobs located in Brooklyn than at any time since 1975, the year that the U.S. Department of Labor started keeping these figures. Brooklyn’s economic future continues to soar. In fact, the New York Post headline last Thursday got it exactly right: ‘Brooklyn Reaches for the Skies.’
“It was a story describing the nearly $10 billion in projects that are being shepherded by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, and that will transform Brooklyn’s skyline in the next five years. They include more than 14,000 new apartments, 1,800 new hotel rooms, 3.2 million square feet of office and retail space, a Frank Gehry-designed home for Brooklyn’s new NBA franchise. And at its heart, the BAM Cultural District that will be a vibrant performing and visual arts Mecca. Add it all up, and you have the most exciting new city center in the nation, one that will produce more than 50,000 new jobs, right here in Brooklyn. In good old-fashioned Brooklynese: Who woulda thunk it?
“Brooklyn’s renaissance also extends well beyond the downtown area. In Greenpoint-Williamsburg, some 2,400 units of new housing are underway, or on the way, with thousands more to come. New residential and commercial development is coming to a long-dormant stretch of Fourth Avenue in Park Slope. New retailers are bringing better shopping and new jobs throughout the borough, including the new IKEA in Red Hook that will open this spring. And Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Fulton Street is seeing a big comeback, too.
“In these communities, growth is coming from private development, not government programs. Private investment is flowing because, just as I described in a speech to the Manhattan Institute last week, City government has worked with local communities to cast off outdated zoning restriction. And, where they’re needed, to target infrastructure improvements and amenities that make neighborhoods once again attractive to developers. It’s a winning formula, one that’s working all across Brooklyn, and also in Port Morris in the Bronx, in Long Island City, and in other communities. And now it’s going to revitalize Coney Island, too. We’re confident it will lead to $2.5 billion in private investment over the next ten years, and create at least 3,000 new permanent jobs and 20,000 construction jobs in this community over the next 30 years. Working together, we can make all that happen. Here’s how.
“When people around the nation or the world hear the words “Coney Island,” they think of fun in the sun, of beaches, boardwalks, and bumper cars on the Brooklyn shoreline. Just as Marty said, there’s a lot of history behind those images, Coney Island’s fabled history as America’s first and biggest urban amusement park.
“Well, today Coney Island certainly remains a popular warm weather destination; this summer, it drew nearly nine million visitors. But we all recognize that Coney Island just isn’t what it could be. Its amusements haven’t kept pace with changing times and tastes, and for much of the year, activity in the area lags badly. But rather than focus on the faded glory of Coney Island’s past, or the unfulfilled potential of its present, let’s look at how we can create a better future:
“One that builds on Coney Island’s fabulous location and historic legacy; that preserves and invigorates its iconic landmarks, from the Parachute Jump and the Cyclone, to Child’s and Nathan’s. And that creates the indoor and outdoor amusement and entertainment attractions that will make this a bustling year-round destination.
“It’s a vision that also includes major new opportunities for retailing, and thousands of new housing units, located well away from the noise and lights of the amusement district. In line with PlaNYC, our vision for New York’s sustainable future, it will help us create the transit-oriented housing, shopping, and jobs that this growing borough needs.
“Let’s take a look at our framework for rezoning Coney Island.
“It’s the result of a process that began more than four years ago, when, working closely with Marty, Dominic, and a cross-section of business and community leaders, we established the Coney Island Development Corporation. And as Marty said, CIDC produced a strategic plan in 2005 that called for a thorough review of Coney Island’s zoning. Since then, the Brooklyn office of our Department of City Planning has studied the entire Coney Island area, from the Aquarium at West 8th Street to West 24th Street:
“Nineteen city blocks covering 47 acres – and we’ve come up with a vision for revitalizing all of it, both north and south of Surf Avenue. That vision represents one of the largest and most ambitious rezonings that we’ve proposed for Brooklyn. It has these three principal components:
“First, there’s the area we call ‘Coney North,’ which is bounded on the east by Stillwell Avenue, on the west by West 20th Street, and on the north and south by Mermaid and Surf Avenues. Currently, most of the land in this district is seriously underused; there are many vacant lots and vacant buildings, and a good deal of the area is used only for parking. But located so close to the superbly redesigned and rebuilt Stillwell Avenue station, it now has the potential to be much more than that. So we propose to rezone Coney North for residential and retail use. That will create the capacity for up to 1,800 new apartments, including affordable units, and 100,000 square feet of retail space.
“Second, there’s the area we’re calling Coney West, between West 19th and West 24th Streets, and south of Surf Avenue. Much of it is City land—technically identified as parkland—that is now used as parking for Keyspan Park. The area also includes the landmarked Child’s building, which sits vacant. And unfortunately, there are very few direct connections through this area to the Boardwalk and the ocean’s shore. We can do much better here, too, which is why we propose to de-map the existing parkland while preserving adequate parking, opening up a new network of streets that will unify and connect this district to the Boardwalk and to the rest of the neighborhood, and create conditions that will lead to development of some 2,700 apartments and 360,000 square feet of retail space.
“Third and finally, there’s what we call Coney East. It’s the area bounded by West 8th and West 19th Streets, Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk. It’s Coney Island’s existing warm weather amusement district. But outdated zoning severely restricts what can be done here. It’s current zoning, for example, prohibits enclosed amusements or even sit-down restaurants. In fact, the only year-round destination in this part of Coney Island is Nathan’s, and I think that after all these years, Nathan’s would like some company. But unfortunately, like Coney North and Coney West, this area is marred by vacant land. It also lacks east-west connections between its principal attractions, like the Aquarium, the Cyclone, and the Parachute Jump. So we propose to map the 15 acres of Coney East as new City parkland. That effect would be dramatic: It would preserve the world’s most famous urban amusement park in perpetuity. And when you combine that with the Aquarium and with KeySpan Park, we will have 50 contiguous acres of public park with the best in recreation that Brooklyn, or New York, has to offer.
“Lifting these outdated zoning restrictions on Coney East would unleash the possibility of really exciting changes at Coney Island. It would permit development of such fabulous attractions as: A high-speed roller coaster that would wind through the district. It and other new rides would be thrilling new icons for the new Coney Island. There could be a year-round water park and hotel with slides, rides, and awesome year-round aquatic attractions, or an open-air performance area for live music and theater, flowing onto the Boardwalk and Coney Island’s magnificent beach. There could be a modern outdoor ice-skating rink, popular cold-weather attraction that people in the area have wanted for many years, as well as a wide variety of restaurants and shops to fit every budget and satisfy every taste. This revitalized amusement district will be the home of the cherished and restored B&B Carousel, which two years ago we saved from being sold, dismantled, and shipped out of town. And it will provide an exciting new setting for beloved Coney Island landmarks like the Cyclone and the Parachute Jump.
“Now, just imagine the economic impact on this community if a new, revitalized Coney Island, with its exciting new attractions, could hold just a fraction of our city’s 44 million annual visitors. Just imagine if they chose to stay one more day or night here before they take a short cab ride out to JFK for their flights home. We can make that happen. We can enliven Surf Avenue with close to one and a half million square feet of restaurants, entertainment venues, and a new hotel. They’ll attract year-round throngs of shoppers and tourists, and make Coney Island an electrifying, enjoyable, family-friendly entertainment center for everyone, out-of-town visitors and New Yorkers alike. Rezoning is essential to realizing this vision of Coney Island. So are other aspects of City policy.
“Here’s how they’ll work, and work together, starting with the zoning process itself. The framework that I’ve just described launches that process, one in which the public will have abundant opportunities to help shape the outcome. In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll continue to share this rezoning framework with the community, with an eye toward beginning the formal public review and approval process early in 2008. And I’m confident that, just as public input has strengthened every other rezoning we’ve undertaken in Brooklyn, the comments we get on this plan will produce a consensus about Coney Island’s bright and exciting future.
“Even as that process is going forward, we’re also going to begin working with Dominic, Marty, and the area’s State elected officials, Alec Brook-Krassny and Diane Savino. As well as community leaders, including many of you, to find a dynamic developer and manager to whom the City would lease the amusement area in Coney East. That’s exactly what the amusement operators in Coney Island have needed for many, many years. And doing that is going to send a signal to private investors that we’re serious about Coney Island’s future as an amusement and entertainment district.
“We’re also prepared to make a significant public investment that will help ensure creation of a great new amusement area. We’ve already committed $100 million over the next four years for designing and creating new streetscapes on Surf Avenue, for a major makeover of Steeplechase Plaza, for re-landscaping the area around the Aquarium, and for other amenities that will make the area more attractive to private capital.
“Finally, to achieve this model of an amusement district, the City will work with existing landowners to acquire many of the properties in Coney East. We hope to achieve a win-win outcome with each of them. That’s what we want for all the people of Coney Island, and Brooklyn. And I want to close with a few words underscoring that commitment. Unfortunately, there’s often a lot of cynicism about government, and some people may wonder if, after a “big splash” announcement, we really intend to follow through, and do the hard work that will make this vision a reality. Well this Administration believes in accountability. We don’t just talk the talk; we also walk the walk.
“Just look around Brooklyn. Look at the Downtown area, and at the Atlantic Yards development. Or at the new housing in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, at the construction along Fourth Avenue, or at the businesses springing up in the neighborhood of Restoration Plaza in Bedford-Stuyvesant. And you can look right here in Coney Island, where work on a new $56 million community center and 150 affordable apartments on formerly City-owned land, a project spearheaded by the CIDC, will begin in a few months.
“The progress we’re seeing throughout Brooklyn is the product of the kind of planning that’s going into this vision for Coney Island’s future, and also of the kind of hard work we’re going to do to make the future brighter for this community. We’ve forged this vision after years of collaboration with the Coney Island community and its elected leaders.
“We’ve got 784 days left in our term of office. And we’re going to use every one of them to ensure that the best days for Coney Island, and for all the people of this great borough, are still to come. God bless you all, and have a great holiday season!”