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Markowitz's expensive, publicly-funded monument: Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island, with (fewer) concerts and FCR's continued support

Photos by Norman Oder
The summer concert season in Coney Island is both bigger and smaller than when Borough President Marty Markowitz was in charge, though that's not quite successor Eric Adams's fault.

A new, not-quite-finished, 5000-seat Ford Amphitheater opened in late June at the Coney Island boardwalk, built at West 21st Street into the landmarked Child's Restaurant building, which awaits restoration, and covering what was once a community garden.

This venue, programmed by Live Nation and with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment as a partner, has a busy summer season. But the free Seaside Summer Concert Series, along with the Martin Luther King Jr. Concert Series (in Flatbush/Wingate), is somewhat truncated.

The cloud over contributions

As the 7/1/16 Brooklyn Paper reported, Beep Adams: Free concert series not so free, because sponsors fear non-profits amid citywide corruption probes:
Coney Island’s once-free Seaside Concert Series will now cost you — because private sponsors are scared to give money to non-profits amid ongoing government corruption probes, Borough President Adams said.
“When we call up these corporate entities and say, ‘Listen, we want these free concerts for the residents of Coney Island and Flatbush,’ they have already read stories and say, ‘We don’t want to donate to those anymore,’ ” Borough President Adams told this paper.
For more than 30 years, the non-profit Seaside Summer Concert Series Inc. has brought about a half-dozen free shows a season to the People’s Playground. 
But this time, only three will be gratis — and three others will cost upwards of $25. The 5,000-seat venue will give away 1,000 free tickets for each of the three paid shows, but anyone hoping to snag a pass will have to line up on the Boardwalk at noon two days before the concerts — often on weekdays. 

Same sponsors

Seaside partial sponsor
list; Forest City at top
Rest assured, Forest City Ratner, for years Brooklyn's leading developer, is still a sponsor and in fact is listed first on the Seaside web site. The Seaside Concert Series also thanked some smaller local sponsors for a recent show.

Forest City is listed second, after Applebee's, on the MLK Concerts web site.

By the way, according to the Brooklyn Paper, "Adams blamed overzealous good-government groups for creating a chilling affect among sponsors."

Oh sure.

Good-government groups in New York City are not too strong. Maybe he meant federal prosecutors.

The backstory

Like a lot of construction projects in New York, this was delayed, as the venue, as noted in the Wall Street Journal, was supposed to open in 2015. It barely passed a safety inspection, as the Bensonhurst Bean reported.

When Markowitz toured the venue at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, as the Bensonhurst Bean reported, he called such a rain-resistant venue t a "dream come true," though he said he wished it was even bigger.

“There is a place in this world for sheer force of will. And for vision and for love of your borough and your people. So, my dear friends, let’s thank Marty Markowitz,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said, according to the report.

The Child's building awaits restoration
"This is now the home of the seaside summer concert series,” said Markowitz's successor Adams, according to the report. “This will bring families together. That’s what Brooklyn was always about. That’s what my predecessor understood.”

What Adams and Markowitz also understand is that giving away fun free stuff solidifies support from voters.

Hence a robocall I got from Adams as well as an email from him announcing the concerts.

The Barclays Center connection

As to Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, well, check the press release:
Tri-State Ford Dealers is the naming rights partner of the new 5,000-seat covered open-air venue, the first of its kind in the Tri-State area. The naming rights partnership was secured by Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which manages and controls Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets, and the New York Islanders business operations.
Yes, people do drive to Coney Island, but there's a massive subway terminus, with four subway lines and eight tracks. Is driving a Ford the first thing people think of when Brooklyn or Coney Island comes to mind?

The boondoggle

The fun stuff is a distraction. As Neil deMause wrote in the 6/21/16 Village Voice, Behold: Coney Island's $61 Million Amphitheater Boondoggle, the deal looks sketchy:
Waiting to get into the amphitheater
The amphitheater is the result of a complicated partnership between the city Economic Development Corporation (EDC), financier and developer iStar, and Live Nation, the live-events giant that is in a never-ending war with rival behemoth AEG to dominate the concert world. In a convoluted transaction, iStar is providing the property, and Live Nation its particular brand of mass-market expertise; the city, meanwhile, pays $61.4 million in cash to buy the site from iStar and immediately lease it back to the developer, which will control and operate the amphitheater for the next ten years.
That's a sizable contribution of taxpayer money for a project that was initially intended to be a "community arts center" and has since evolved into a for-profit music venue akin to the Jones Beach Theater. 
Moreover, it's a stunning $50 million allotment from Markowitz's capital budget, which could have been used for things like, oh, libraries or affordable housing.

What's next?

Looking at Child's, toward the boardwalk
The Commercial Observer, in a 7/13/16 article asked Coney Baloney: Will Big Developers Ever Build Their Dreamlands in Coney Island?

The answer is that some milestones, such as the 2001 opening of KeySpan Park (now MCU Park), the 2009 rezoning, and the 2010 opening of Luna Park (which updated and replaced what was on the Astroland site), and the 2013 lighting of the Parachute Jump weren't enough.

The Commercial Observer doesn't even think the new amphitheater cuts it (and they're right):
All these theories have merit, but the big projects—the ones intended to make Coney Island a 365-day entertainment zone, such as a luxury hotel, an indoor waterpark, a movie theater, a conference center and shiny high-rise condominiums—have been stuck in an endless holding pattern for years and probably won’t break out any time soon.
Part of that, however, is because developer Joe Sitt of Thor Equities--who's put Coney Island Art Walls on a key Stillwell Avenue site between the subway and the boardwalk as a placeholder--still wants to wrangle zoning changes for a hotel and a movie theater on land with precious amusement zoning. (See Tricia Vita's coverage on Amusing the Zillion.)

Also coming is a renovation of a $157 million New York Aquarium renovation, aimed for 2017. Pending is a plan to renovate the long-closed (and landmarked) Shore Theater on Surf Avenue opposite the subway station and turn it into a hotel or entertainment space.

(Here's coverage of that hotel plan, from Bensonhurst Bean.)

Coney, as Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Carlo Scissura pointed out, still lacks a year round hotel, with conference space. Meanwhile, much of the surrounding area suffers from significant poverty, and is still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.

Markowitz, who heads outer-borough promotion at NYC & Company, still thinks big, according to the Commercial Observer:
“We will have indoor amusements and a hotel and convention center,” Markowitz said. “There are so many things that are yet to come, and people will invest there if they know there is a market for it. Not everyone has a home in the Hamptons.” 
The only question that remains: When?


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