Another sign that the weather gods hate Coney Island this year: Rainclouds and bitter winds met this morning’s official ceremonies marking the reopening of the beach for the summer season. “It’s a beautiful sunny day!” Parks Commissioner Adrian Benape taunted a crowd of schoolchildren shivering under a tent on the boardwalk. “Do you want to go swimming?” (For the record, the weekend is supposed to be much nicer.)
A few yards away, bare to the elements, several dozen protestors from the nascent group Save Coney Island — principal instigators: Coney Island USA’s Dick “Mayor of Coney Island” Zigun, Coney Island History Project’s Charles “Mr. Coney Island” Denson, and the Lola Staar Boutique’s Dianna “Lola Staar” Carlin — carried on a steady stream of songs, chants, and jeers to call attention to what they charge is the city’s sellout of Coney’s traditional amusement district for a plan that would allow 30-story hotels along Surf Avenue, while shrinking the outdoor amusement district to a tidy nine acres.
City councilmember Domenic Recchia, believed by many to be the force who led the city to abruptly revise its rezoning plans last month, was booed heartily throughout his brief speech; Coney Island Development Corporation president Lynn Kelly, last fall hailed as Coney’s savior, was booed as well (though spared the bleacher-style chant of “You suck!” that followed Recchia’s appearance). As dueling mascots prowled the beachfront – a walrus and an octopus for the city, a rabbit and Reverend Billy for the opposition – mounted police kept a wary eye, while their steeds added a new kind of wear to the increasingly threadbare boardwalk. (“Big-ass turds!” exclaimed one Parks Department worker armed with a garbage scoop. “Goddamn!“)
Asked about the protest, Recchia told reporters that he’d helped Zigun’s group obtain a $5 million grant to buy their building (currently being renovated for the addition of a ground-level bar and souvenir shop), adding: “Some people don’t like change.” For their part, Save Coney organizers promised to launch a new website, fightforyourrighttoconey.com, in coming weeks. As far as an official response to the outcry over the zoning plan, says Carlin, there’s been “nothing. The city’s been silent.”
Back in actually existing Coney Island, meanwhile, signs of change are few and gradual. The most notable is on Thor Equities’ land east of Stillwell Avenue, which sat vacant all last summer after Thor principal Joe Sitt evicted the go-carts and batting cages that had occupied the property. This morning, workers from Reithoffer Shows were hastily erecting a set of rides, including small Ferris wheels and old standbys like the Himalaya and the Scrambler, for a planned 5 p.m. opening of a temporary park that Thor is calling “Dreamland,” after the classic Coney park that burned down in 1911. (Reithoffer, an old standby itself from county fairs throughout the Northeast, will offer its standard $1/ticket price, though with each ride costing between three and six tickets, it may find itself priced out by the Denos’ and Astroland’s less costly offerings.) This temporary expansion of the amusement district will last until June 3, when Reithoffer will pack up and leave town, though several rides along the Bowery — including the imposing Ring of Fire – are supposed to stick around until Labor Day.
As for the buckling boardwalk itself, Benape promised that the city will start on $5 million worth of repairs — using non-rainforest wood and plastic-based “synthetic wood” — in September. Also visible: the first signs of stores returning to the reconstructed Stillwell Avenue subway terminal, where passersby can peek at construction crews prepping the corner property at Surf Avenue for a soon-to-arrive Dunkin Donuts.
Lola Staar expects to open a store in the subway terminal this summer as well, but Carlin was more in the mood to talk about her other project: the Dreamland Roller Rink (she says she nabbed the name before Thor did) that she hopes to open in the landmark Childs Restaurant building on the boardwalk. Despite overwhelming interest — she had to cut off reservations for her one-day grand opening in March after more than 1000 RSVPs poured in — Carlin remains short of cash to pay for a Department of Buildings assembly permit and for insurance. She’s now soliciting individual pledges on her Dreamland website, while praying for a well-heeled savior to step up and forestall a move to a less costly site outside of Coney Island. “I’ll freaking put your logo on everything,” she promises would-be corporate sponsors. “I’ll tattoo it on my forehead. Seriously.”