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November 29th, 2006

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04:09 pm - NO. NO NO NO NO NO. NO.
Thor Equities has recently made its presence known at Coney Island. They've been buying up parcels of land around Stillwell Ave (most recently a large block at Stillwell and West 12th) for development.

Thor has repeatedly said they want to "turn Coney Island back into an entertainment capitol" and they've sent around some very slick-looking press releases with imaginative and colorful concept art, but that's all they have -- concept art. And a price tag for their project that gets bigger and bigger every time they blow some more smoke.

Meanwhile, they're trying to buy up as much property as they can and get the city to rezone it for residential use. What good's an entertainment area if it's not zoned for high-rise condos, right?

No, I don't believe a word Thor Equities has said. I have no faith in their claims. I don't believe they wish to keep the amusements in Coney Island. Not when they claim their development will contain "the first roller coaster built in Coney Island since the Cyclone." (Hello, Jumbo Jet?) Not when their concept art is just that -- conceptual. And not when they're actively pursuing a giant mall/condo complex. Revitalizing a depressed area is one thing (and let's face it, Coney Island deserves all the revitalization it can get, especially year-round stuff) but not when it's one developer calling all the shots and buying up all the land.

Yes, all the land. Today I learned of a big purchase they just made. Thor Equities is finishing the job that Robert Moses started over 40 years ago and Fred Trump, Donald's father, tried to finish as well.

They're finally killing Coney Island.

Cyclone saved, but beloved Astroland will close

The vintage Astroland Amusement Park, one of the anchors of Coney Island since its 1962 opening, was purchased Tuesday by a developer intent on restoring the Brooklyn beachfront as a $1.5 billion year-round resort.

The Albert family, owners of the well-known park, will close the 3.1-acre attraction at the end of the 2007 summer season under the deal reached with Thor Equities. The Alberts will continue to operate the landmark Cyclone roller-coaster, which turns 80 next year, under an existing agreement with the city.

The decision to sell was "very difficult and made only after months of extensive discussion," said Carol Hill Albert, co-owner of Astroland with husband Jerome. The park was launched by her late father-in-law, Dewey Albert.

In the end, the cost of converting Astroland to a year-round operation was too steep. The family had turned down larger bids last year "in the hope of finding an alternative that would enable us to keep our current location," Albert said — but it didn't pan out.

Thor Equities plans a $1.5 billion, year-round facility in Coney Island. Although no price was given for the Astroland purchase, Thor had already spent $100 million snapping up properties along the venerable boardwalk.

Thor's plans include a mix of amusements and attractions, including a new roller coaster and a new hotel to accommodate the anticipated arrival of new tourists.

The site of the amusement park is renowned for another reason. Local legend has it that restaurateur Charles Feltman invented the hot dog there in 1874.

The Alberts, although they sold their property to Thor, retained ownership of attractions like the water flume and the Astrotower in hopes of adding some new rides and relocating to another section of the neighborhood.

The amusement park employs about 300 workers every summer, and Albert was hopeful that city and Brooklyn officials could help with relocation costs.

"The Albert family is proud to have provided so many wonderful memories for so many generations and to have been such an important part of New York's world famous Coney Island," Albert said.

No word yet on Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, but with its boardwalk location between Astroland and the other pieces of land Thor has bought, it's pretty clear they'll stand in the way of this development. They could go at any time. We don't know.

Why couldn't Thor's development have included Astroland and Deno's? You know, for the "amusements"? Why not use the deserted land between Deno's and Keyspan Park (a lot of which Thor has bought up already) and leave the amusements where they are? Isn't that the point of having amusements?

Oh, because Astroland stands in the way of Thor's idea of having a resort/condo complex connected with the New York Aquarium. Well, so does the Cyclone, in that case. And when one domino falls and nobody says boo...

I'm sorry. I can't think of this development in any positive terms whatsoever. Coney Island will become like Myrtle Beach; full of beachfront high-rise condos and indoor shopping malls with maybe like a portable coaster thrown in to "re-create the feeling" of how fun things used to be, without being fun themselves.


I'm just glad poor Steve Urbanowicz, one of the true hearts of Coney Island, isn't around to see this.

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 29th, 2006 09:32 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:November 29th, 2006 10:08 pm (UTC)
What they don't mention is that they can't touch the Cyclone because it's got landmark status.

From http://www.astroland.com/cyclone.html:

"An official New York City Landmark since July 12, 1988, Cyclone was listed in the New York State Register of Historic Places on June 31, 1991. National Historic Landmark status followed, on June 26, 1991."

This makes it hard to remove, at least legally.
[User Picture]
Date:November 29th, 2006 11:16 pm (UTC)
Yes and no. All the city has to do is go to court, make the claim that the Cyclone structure is unfit and in bad enough shape that rehabilitation just isn't a feasible option, and the court can give them approval to tear the structure down and put up a plaque in its place.

The beautiful old art deco Hayden Planetarium building at the Museum of Natural History had landmark status, but somehow the museum was able to do an end run around that to demolish most of the building and build a state-of-the-art planetarium in its place. I don't mind that kind of replacement, but it was not nice of them to get the city to revoke the landmark status for the job.

Frankly if they even dare plan to remove the Cyclone, the American Coaster Enthusiasts will raise a big stink, Brooklynites will raise a big stink, and, well, I'm sure a big stink will be raised altogether.

The Cyclone survived its condemned status in the 1970s and was almost removed to make way the new aquarium, but the Parks Department stepped in, refurbished the ride, and kept it running. The ride has seen Coney Island change several times over the course of 80 years. I only hope it will survive this latest change.
[User Picture]
Date:November 29th, 2006 10:36 pm (UTC)
There was an article in Sunday's Chicago Trib that's subscriber-only, and they stripped the awesome pictures from online, but here's the article:

The ghosts of Gurnee

By Chris Mcnamara
Published November 26, 2006

Bone'yard n. Slang 1. a cemetery. 2. an area where old or discarded cars, ships, planes, etc., are collected prior to being broken up for scrap or otherwise disposed of.

--Random House Dictionary of the English Language.

Littered as the gritty, off-limits area ringing Six Flags Great America is with retired roller-coaster cars, water-ride "ships" and planes--flying saucers, actually--the name the theme park's mechanics have chosen for the place--the Boneyard--seems appropriate by the second definition above.

But the first definition fits this place as well, especially when you tour The Boneyard on a stormy October evening with the oncoming winter whispering in your ear, "Summer ... never ... happened."

When in motion, thrill-ride vehicles are far more vibrant and alive than any Buick or cabin cruiser. So seeing them here with their exteriors pried open and their insides exposed gives the Boneyard the feel of a mortuary.

Take the fleet of mini-Model T's parked amidst waist-high weeds. The "NO BUMPING" instructions stenciled on their dented trunks read like a sad irony. With flat tires and broken chassis, these cars couldn't possibly go bump in the night--or day, for that matter.

Or notice the grounded flying saucer sharing its self-pity with a flat-tired pickup truck; or the Logger's Run boats propped on their starboard sides, their faded underbellies exposed like those of sleeping dogs; or the 20-seater boat that once plied Splashwater Falls but now sits atop wooden planks--no more splashing, no more falling, no more fun.

When rides are deconstructed to make room for newer, bigger ones at Great America, the pieces might find their way to other theme parks. They can also be sold for scrap, which is why mechanics separate the wood and metal from the computer circuit boards, whose workings have been ruined by exposure to the elements.

But often the vehicles end up here more or less intact, like the dozen Hay Baler cars, which--if one were to anthropomorphize roller coasters--seem to fight retirement, flaunting their faded gold paint jobs like aged veterans marching in uniform on Memorial Day.

Or like the dozen or so fiberglass cars from the Triple Play ride, aligned in orderly rows in a corner of the Boneyard, their bucket seats intact, their red, green and yellow colors slickened in the light drizzle. They resemble huge Skittles laid out across the asphalt.

Mark Walazeck, a mechanical manager at Great America who has been in charge of the detritus of decommissioned rides at the Boneyard since 1979, can't let romance inhibit his job. Somebody has to trash the old rides. Somebody has to insult the memory of cherished roller coasters by reusing their cars--once genuine objects of fright for nervous passengers--for comical horror decorations each Halloween season. And everybody who works back here must be wary of the raccoons and skunks that overwinter within the rusting hulks.

Among the sights is Coaster Dude, a fiberglass "boy" discarded in the passenger seat of a roller-coaster car. He stares up into the rain with a permanent gape. What once was a grin now resembles a grimace, time having altered his expression.

On this dingy fall day, if you press your ear to Coaster Dude's mouth, or if you lean close to the Logger's Run boats or the Hay Baler cars, you will hear the faint sound of screaming thrill seekers. And in the eerie ambiance of the Boneyard, you might just think you were hearing the screams of ghosts of summers past.

But in reality, the screams are coming from real people a hundred yards away, cramming in the last few rides of the year on the towering new coasters that these retirees made room for.

[User Picture]
Date:November 29th, 2006 10:56 pm (UTC)


I'm sorry.
[User Picture]
Date:November 30th, 2006 06:50 am (UTC)
As a Brooklyn resident, this depresses me to no end. I really have no words to express it.

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