Let's Rip It Down First, then plan it – Coney Island Redevelopment
Amusement demolition part of ‘growing pains’ – While buildings are being torn down, post-construction jobs are being created
By Stephen Witt
Fencing debris lays torn down as Thor Equities tore down part of the amusement area last week to make way for the redevelopment of Coney Island.
Such mainstay Coney Island amusements as the go-cart track and the batting cages were bulldozed last week as developer Thor Equities readies the property for its plans to transform the area into a year-round amusement/retail/residential hub.
“Thor is committed to implementing its vision for Coney Island as soon as the city finishes the rezoning process,” said Thor Equities spokesperson Lee Silberstein.
“It therefore believes it is important to complete as much site prep work as possible now,” he added.
Silberstein further explained it is clear that during construction there is going to be a time of adjustment.
“Those sites were not going to be active this summer, so rather than wait to do the site prep work at a future time, Thor made a decision to do it now,” Silberstein said.
Norman Kaufman, who runs the go-cart racing and batting cages, could not be reached for comment.
But Dennis Vourderis, spokesperson for the family-run Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, which also controls a good-sized portion of the amusement district, said the demolition created a wide swath of open area.
“Now you can see straight through from West 12th Street all the way to the ballpark (KeySpan Stadium),” said Vourderis.
“It looks like a huge piece of property. Before, with the fencing up, you couldn’t see straight through, but now it’s all in perspective,” he added.
Vourderis said he expected the demolition as he was told he had to be out of his go-cart track, which Thor also controls, by the end of January.
“In my mind, it’s kind of exciting and I’m glad it [Coney Island redevelopment] is starting,” he said.
Vourderis said the demolition will have an impact and there will be a few painful years, but these are growing pains and ultimately the end result will be wonderful.
“It might actually be busier this summer with less venues to grab the entertainment dollar,” he said.
Vourderis, however, does not agree with Thor that the city should move quickly on rezoning the amusement area.
“I’m glad they [city] are taking their time so we can be heard as well. Things don’t happen overnight. Developers would like it [rezoning done quickly], but it’s still a democratic process,” Vourderis said.
Vourderis said he would like the rezoning done in a way that Thor can build the $2 billion amusement park he wants, but that also provides similar opportunities for Denos Wonder Wheel and other amusement owners in the district.
In regard to allowing some residential housing within the amusement area, Vourderis said it can be done, but he favors time share type housing over luxury condominiums.
Adding a retail and residential component can be done in good context and design, while still maintaining the historic aspect and amusement flavor of Coney Island, he said.
Vourderis said he sees the luxury housing going up west of the Parachute Jump and north of Surf Avenue, but not close to the boardwalk around Stillwell Avenue.
“My feeling is if you put luxury housing among all this noise, someone will have to go,” Vourderis said, adding that any zoning change should apply to all amusement owners so everybody can stay competitive.
Meanwhile, Thor Equities has also hired Christopher Woods to develop and implement a program to prepare and train residents of Coney Island for jobs that will be created as part of Thor’s vision for the revitalization of Coney Island.
Woods, a longtime Brooklyn resident, has been involved in several large development projects in to ensure that local construction and after-construction jobs go to minorities and minority- and women-owned businesses in the area.
Woods previously worked as the liaison between developer Forest City Ratner Companies and the local community in the development of the MetroTech Center in downtown Brooklyn.
©Courier-Life Publications 2007