Monday, August 27, 2007

The future of Coney Island will not look quite like this

Thor Equities may call its changing, not-yet-approved plan for a prime chunk of the Coney Island amusement zone "the future of Coney Island," and that may be so--at least for that central portion.

But it's unlikely that the future will be defined by the enduring Coney Island icons--the Cylcone, the Wonder Wheel, the Parachute Jump--Thor has chosen for its oft-repeated graphics, which line the walls of prime but empty property along Stillwell Avenue, the straight shot from the subway to the beach.

For Atlantic Yards watchers, it may hearken back to 2003, when the 16-tower Atlantic Yards megaproject was launched with a web site called BBall.net.

Showdown in September?

A Daily News article yesterday, headlined Sands of time catch up to Coney Island, suggests a showdown next month:
Megadeveloper Thor Equities and its president Joe Sitt envision hotels, entertainment venues and amusement parks in a new Coney Island that draws crowds year-round.

The success of that vision — as well as another plan to build mostly luxury housing by developer Taconic Investment Partners — hinges on a city zoning overhaul expected to be released in September.

The city has never been thrilled with Thor's Las Vegas-style vision. Earlier this month, a high-ranking city official told The News, "Thor's proposal is dead in the water."


One concern is that land may remain fallow and boardwalk storefronts empty if the city and Thor remain deadlocked.

Channeling Jane Jacobs?

An esteemed historian of Coney's good times and bad offered a money quote to the Daily News:
"What's strange is Coney Island has always had this sense of anarchy and now here's somebody who's trying to sterilize and impose a vision of retail-tainment," said Coney Island historian Charles Denson. "Sitt's not an evil guy. But this is his vision and the worst thing to have in Coney Island is one person's singular vision."

Denson sounded like he was channeling urbanist Jane Jacobs, patron saint of mixed uses and diversity of ownership. She wrote:
The main responsibility of city planning and design should be to develop -- insofar as public policy and action can do so -- cities that are congenial places for this great range of unofficial plans, ideas, and opportunities to flourish.


She was writing about neighborhoods, not amusement districts, and surely many amusement parks or areas have just one owner. But Coney is different, right? The Department of City Planning has been resistant to Sitt's plans, so let's see what emerges.

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