Saturday, November 14, 2009

City moving quickly to use its new Coney land

The city is moving quickly to bring rides and other amusements this summer to seven acres of beach-front land that it bought on Thursday from landowner Joe Sitt — issuing a request for proposals from theme park operators this morning.

Mayor Bloomberg only announced the $95.6-million land buy on Thursday, but as he spoke, city printing presses were already churning out the official request for proposals, which seeks amusements on the three plots between the Cyclone rollercoaster and Keyspan Park that the city bought from Sitt.

The goal of having interim amusements that draw people to Coney Island in large numbers is one that eluded Sitt for several summers, an indication of why the city is moving so quickly to bring in outside bidders.

“We’re on a tight timeframe,” said one city source. “We know that.”

How tight? Economic Development Corporation officials will fly to Las Vegas next week to pitch their proposal at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions exposition. And on Nov. 24, the same group will host would-be operators at an information session in Manhattan.

In both forums, EDC officials will no doubt herald the city’s land purchase as evidence that years of neglect at Coney Island are over. Mayor Bloomberg’s vision calls for a Coney Island amusement area reborn as a 24-7-365 destination featuring new hotels, restaurants, shopping, indoor attractions and, most important, a 12-acre open-air amusement park along the Boardwalk.

Most of the land in Coney Island has long been zoned for amusements, but not the kind that could generate enough income to make Coney Island thrive, said Sitt.

“It sounds strange, but the zoning didn’t allow some things like a restaurant or a hotel, or even allow for the new, high-tech rides,” he said.

This summer, the City Council rezoned a wide swath of the area to encourage a wider array of amusements and attractions, including those restaurants and retail, and also allow for the development of 4,500 units of housing to the north and west of the amusement zone.

Sitt could have taken advantage of that zoning, but Bloomberg made it clear that he wanted control of the neighborhood, even telling The Brooklyn Paper that he would deny Sitt the infrastructure improvements he’d need to build anything in Coney Island.

Such hardball forced Sitt’s hand. Indeed, at the press conference, Sitt likened the hard-bargaining Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber to the fictional gangster Luca Brasi from “The Godfather.” As the press laughed, Sitt apologized, but Lieber mumbled, “I take it as a compliment.”

Despite the “compliment” and Sitt’s talk of the “tough” negotiations, he did end up selling a little more than half of his Coney Island land for nearly $100 million — land that cost him significantly less when he started acquiring it in 2005.

And he now intends to profit richly from the land he still owns — mostly along Surf Avenue. He says he’ll build hotels, indoor amusements, restaurants and retail — though it all must wait until the city brings in modern electrical capacity and makes other infrastructure improvements that the mayor is now happy to provide.

But first, the interim uses. The request for proposals is fairly vague, saying only that the city wants amusements and “an enhanced visitor experience in keeping with Coney Island’s tradition of public access.”

The document also said that the winning bidder would likely have “a plan for the installation of a diverse mix of state-of-the-art rides and attractions, including thrill rides, adult rides, and family rides.”

Would-be bidders will have to present that plan in less than a month. Bids are due on Dec. 11.

The Brooklyn Paper

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