Coney Island's Astroland Goes Dark

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Coney Island's famous Astroland sign

Credit: Tricia Vita

Astroland Park closed last week, two years after its owner sold the three-acre amusement park to a developer for $30 million. In a final effort to save what's left of the shrinking amusement district, members of the grassroots group Save Coney Island, founded by boardwalk business owner Dianna Carlin, distributed 10,000 flyers to visitors on Sept. 7, closing day.

"Everyone agrees that Coney Island needs improvement," says Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, "but Astroland was the anchor for Coney Island. It's a terrible loss."

Carol Albert the former owner of the land beneath Astroland, could not reach a lease compromise with landlord Thor Equities, which now owns most of Coney Island. Thor did not respond to Albert's  requests to extend her two-year lease, which expires in January.

"So Astroland is closed. That doesn't mean that what I do is worthless," says Tricia Vita, a Save Coney Island member who refuses to stop fighting to save the half-acre of amuseument parks that remain. "People say, 'I thought it was too late.' The perception is that it's gone forever."

City leaders, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, want to make sure that at least some of the celebrated park remains. The Coney Island Development Corporation tried to negotiate a one-year lease extension with Thor so that they can rezone the property and eventually purchase it. According to the New York City Council Economic Development plan for 2008-2011, $121.9 million has been set aside for Coney Island redevelopment, which includes upgrades of the amusement and recreational facilities.

The city's most current plans include a nine-acre park, much smaller than the 15-acre park it originally proposed. "There is no way you can build a world-class amusement park on nine acres," Vita says. "I would settle for the 15-acre plan, with cutting-edge amusement rides that are unique to Coney Island, like one that pays homage to the old Steeplechase ride."

Meanwhile, the Coney Island sideshow, two kiddie parks, and rides like the 1920 Ferris wheel known as the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone, a 1927 wood roller coaster, both city landmarks, will open next season. Under the Cyclone, in a former souvenir shop, is the Coney Island History Project, where a recent exhibit included a visual retrospective of Astroland's earliest moments, including the park's original plans and photographs of its construction.

 

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Comments

Submitted by day day at: March 26, 2009
i really think something must be done about the closing of Astroland. especially if it is going to be transformed into a condo

Submitted by ridepro at: February 22, 2009
coney island is a landmark. It has the best rides, cyclone, breakdancer, wonder wheel, top spin, i've bin on all of them

Submitted by mss at: November 6, 2008
SAVE ASTROLAND!!

Submitted by skylar at: October 6, 2008
Coney Island crackled with fun and the spirit on the American family in its day. Throngs of folks still stand in line at the original Nathan's to be part of the old Coney Island when Brooklyn was king. To preserve even a small part of that is well worth the effort.

Submitted by ccm at: October 1, 2008
Ah, Coney Island. Now comes the death of democracy, and the rise of the cancerous growth of the aristocracy. We're losing more than just an amusement park, my friends.

Submitted by Fifteen Acres at: September 29, 2008
"Condos?! We don't need no stinkin' condos!" Enough is enough. Build rides, not malls. Go back to the original CIDC plan of 15 acres of amusements & stop bulldozing NYC history in favor of the banal.

Submitted by Cliff at: September 29, 2008
"A spectacular amusement park that would rival those of Coney's historic past. " Thunderbolt Kin, I'm with you on this idea. Would be fantastic! I also wanted a new 25 acre Steeplechase rebuilt and was irked that the prior city administration didn't feel the same.

Submitted by Anonymous at: September 28, 2008
Right now every developer and condo owner is against Thor's plans. There are too many condos and building hundreds more like Sitt wants to do will just devalue the condos already built. At this moment we are asking for a moratorium on building any new condos. If Bloomberg has any business sense he will pass it. Responsible developers built just the right amount of condos that demand called for. Because of idiot wannabe developers like Joe Sitt converting apartment buildings and building cheap on property that was suppose to be protected, the brainless get rich quick bunch, we now have more condos than can possibly sell. And it is worse now that everyone on Wall street is losing their money. There are not enough wealthy New Yorkers now. The ones who do have condos do not want their investments reduced in value because these get rich quick idiots want to flood the market with hundreds of more condos. You guys want to stop Sitt from tearing down a dilapidated amusement park. There are others with better reasons to stop Sitt.

Submitted by Thunderbolt Kin at: September 28, 2008
"The amusement area was "sacrificed" when it was sold. The city should've bought it, but they didn't. Amusements are great fun but the area needs more than just chain link fences and carnival rides. Change will do it good." Only the right kind of change will do Coney Island good. And that is a serious investment in a spectacular amusement park that would rival those of Coney's historic past. The world knows Coney Island as the people's playland. Right now NYC is at a crossroads. It can bring Coney back to it original splendor or it can go for the short money and more luxury condos and malls. Keep in mind, there is plenty of room for the latter in Coney. But keep the 16 acres for amusements and rides and you'll have something magical. And in this day and age we need all the magic we can get. The city needs to take back the land from those who would violate the C7 zoning law.

Submitted by Tweths at: September 28, 2008
I ran an entertainment retail store in Jacksonville. That town use to have an old style amusement area with a bunch of amusement parks, arcades, restaurants, the whole shebang. It lost a lot of business to Orlando and was run down a bit but was still open into the late 90s and was still attracting local tourists. Then the mayor decided the area had to be redone and a developer came by who proposed a plan to knock everythng down and replace it with condos and an entertainment area for the new millenium. That new area only had one arcade and one ferris wheel but a huge entertainment retail area. There was a lot of talk about brining in circus du sole and movieland and other huge attractions but the developer never signed a deal with them. The mayor said that entertainment retail was the wave of the future and we got an entertainment retail areaa. I sunk all my savings into a Harley Davison franchise complete with a motercycle ride simulator for the kids. Most of the other entertainment retail stores did not even bother to include the entertainment part or removed it after a few months to build more shelf space. No on showed up. We got lest tourists in that area opening day than the amusement parks did when they were still there. And then after a while no one came. The place was a ghost town and one by one every shop closed. After my shop closed down the sam developer who talked the city into turning the amusement area into condos and entertainment retail told the city that entertainment retail was a failure and wanted to replace all the stores with stores that would accomidate the people living in his condos.

Submitted by Anonymous at: September 27, 2008
The amusement area was "sacrificed" when it was sold. The city should've bought it, but they didn't. Amusements are great fun but the area needs more than just chain link fences and carnival rides. Change will do it good.

Submitted by Anonymous at: September 27, 2008
If the city actually enforced their own zoning laws then Coney Island would never have gotten to run down state we see it in today. BUT EVEN in this state, Coney Island continues to attract people from all the world. They bring their tourist $ with them. No one is going to come from out of town just to go shopping in a mall. If they want to shop in NYC they are not going to make the long to Coney to do so. They will take that long subway ride to go to a place unlike any other in the world. It's the rides, the amusement, the attractions, and the legend and nostalgia that continues to draw people to Coney. The fact that the surrounding residential community is under served by retail should not mean that mall should open right in the heart of the amusement area. There is plenty of vacant land that could serve that community well. We cannot sacrifice the amusement area under the guise of benefiting the surrounding community. The two are totally separate issues and should be approached that way. As I said below. I cannot, for the life of me understand the thinking of people who do not appreciate Coney Island and amusements.

Submitted by Liam at: September 27, 2008
Fond childhood memories and waxing nostalgic is good for the soul but not a practical solution in these bleak economic times. The credit markets are in crisis people! Unless the city or state pays the amusement tab, like Rye Playland, we need a redevelopment plan that makes enough money to finance amusements and benefits the local community all year. New Roc, in any form was a major improvement to the area. Baltimore's Powerplant, Orange County's Irvine Spectrum, City Place, West Palm Beach Florida, Riverwalk New Orleans, Mall of America in Mn, which has an indoor amusement park, are all examples of the economic benefits and revitalization benefits of Entertainment Retail. They were also a big improvements from the empty lots they were built on. Unlike residential, which Coney has ad nauseum, amusements and entertainment retail can be successfully combined in Coney. Coney as it stands is not a destination nor does it provide enough opportunity for it's locals. It's too fragmented. Landholders sold and change is inevitable. The economics have also changed. Without off season economic stimulus, stand alone amusements are not the answer for revitalizaton. This was the reason the city created the revitalization plan.

Submitted by tricia at: September 27, 2008
Here is the text on the 10,000 flyers our Save Coney Island volunteers handed out on Astroland's Day. An additional 10,000 flyers were printed and have been distributed throughout the City. A pdf version is available at http://www.lolastaar.com/Astrolandflyer.pdf Save Coney Island The Tragic Closing of Astroland Isn’t The End of Coney Island!! Please help us convey to the City of New York that the Community Says: YES to revitalizing Coney’s world famous amusement district ! NO to 26 New High Rises of up to 30 stories each in the current Amusement District! NO to Retail, Malls or “Entertainment Retail” in the Amusement District! NO to shrinkage of the Amusement District from 61 acres to 9 acres! YES to lucrative Amusement jobs for our Community YES to keeping Coney Island the People's Playground- providing accessible Amusements for ALL to enjoy!! Email Save.Coney[at]mail.com to join the email list to receive updates http://www.myspace.com/saveconeyisland Side 2 This is what you can do to help: Write a letter, make 3 copies and send it to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City Hall, New York, NY 10007 City Council President Christine Quinn 224 West 30th St Suite 1206 New York NY 10001 Council Member Domenic Recchia 445 Neptune Ave. Brooklyn NY 11224 Or Call 311 and Leave a Comment for the Mayor PRESERVE THE AMUSEMENT DISTRICT!!!

Submitted by Grakers at: September 27, 2008
Did you read the news yet? The developer who put up New Roc City wants to remove the entertainment retail because it attracts the wrong element and has not attracted enough visitors to New Roc City to pay for itself. They have already removed the arcades and rink and are brining in a K-Mart to replace them. The theaters are on their way out as well. Over in Times Square the HMV closed and they are also closing the Virgin Records store. All three arcades are gone, so is laser tag. Disney Store gone. One of the two multiplexes may be closed by the end of the year. Emagenazions gone. Hard Rock thinking of moving back to 57th Street. Howard Johnsons gone. MTV is moving out. Toys R Us may be closing their location there as well. I do not know where you are getting that entertainment retail is working anywhere. Even regular malls are not working. The developer of South Street Seaport wants to replace it's mall with a hotel because that mall failed to make any money.

Submitted by Cliff at: September 26, 2008
Yeah, Kin, There was plenty of room until they put a baseball stadium where amusements or entertainment retail could go. I don't think many people don't love amusements, they just want them spruced up.

Submitted by Thunderbolt Kin at: September 26, 2008
I cannot for the life of me understand people who don't love the amusement area of Coney Island. It is majic, a treasure, an escape from the worries of the real world. How could anyone want to see malls and condos where rides and amusement should be? Coney Island is a part of American History. It should be preserved. It should be revitalized to it's past glory. There's plenty of room for "entertainment retail" and condos if that is what floats your boat. But not by God in the sacred ground that is Coney Island's Amusement area. Save Coney Island....Right On!

Submitted by Liam at: September 26, 2008
Disagree. Stand alone Entertainment retail has done wonders for some areas in need of economic prosperity. Times sq and New Roc amoung others are prime examples. This is an urban neighborhood with thousands of locals, not 800 acres out in the sticks. These locals would benefit from offseason activity like theaters, clubs, retaurants, shopping etc. Entertainment retail is a potential panacea and would compliment a new single operator theme park during the off season. If things were so hunky dory as is, there would be no need for the strategic plan.

Submitted by What The????? at: September 26, 2008
Coney Island run down and broken? Independent amusements a thing of the past? Entertainment retail an improvement? Lets look at the facts. The only run down parts of Coney Island are unkept buildings and vacant lots owned by real estate brokers who for the past two decades have been looking to flip the property for a profit once it is rezoned to residential. This game has been going on since the 1960's as every few years another mayor announces plans to rezone Coney Island. If you own property that is zoned for recreation as Coney Island is and it is rezoned for residential then you can sell it for ten times it's original worth. If your only reason for buying property is to sell it at a profit then there is no reason to build anything on it or keep the buildings on it from falling apart. The one thing that has not become run down is the section that still had amusements. Independent amusements do make money for their owners. If not then there would not still be amusements at Coney Island. Saying that independently owned businesses are a thing of the past is nothing more than communisim. Replacing independent businesses with one single state sanction business is what the U.S.S.R. did. Entertainment retail areas have been failing in the past few years. New Roc City is closing, as is many of the stores at Times Square. Entertainment retail only works as side businesses to an already existing attraction. Downtown Disney gets it's business from patrons of Disneyland. Entertainment retail by itself is nothing more than a shopping mall, and a shopping mall that does not carry the best merchandise. You do not want to go to an entertainment retail area when you want to buy your Nintendo Wii or new clothes for school. You would go to a real mall for that which has real stores that sell the merchandise you want. You want to buy Hello Kitty clothing go to an entertainment retail area. You want the Gap go to Rosevelt Field.

Submitted by Cliff at: September 26, 2008
I wouldn't mind if the ole Coney girl got a sprucing up. I was bummed when Steeplechase Park was replaced by a ballpark. Thunderbolt RIP :(

Submitted by Sharon Weiss at: September 26, 2008
Time to get realistic here folks. The economy is in Shambles. This is also about a neighborhood in desperate need for revitalization and jobs. "Entertainment Retail" is a huge step in the right direction. The status quo ain't working. New seasonal amusements are only part of the equation for re-birth. Coney Island is on life-support. Rebuilding a carnival is and hasn't been the answer to revive this patient.

Submitted by Liam at: September 26, 2008
I love nostalgia but it's time to movie on and reinvent Coney Island. The era of independent entrepreneurial amusements is gone. Time for new theme park and shopping.

Submitted by adriahna at: September 26, 2008
"Entertainment Retail" is a huge step in the wrong direction - Coney Island, with its long-standing tradition as New York CIty's amusement area (governmentally zoned for amusements), will lose all of its character and innate charm if this plan comes to pass. Say goodbye to rides, independently-owned boardwalk businesses, games and food stands - the wonderfully human personality that makes Coney so unique and special - not only to NYC, but to the world. Say hello to homogenized, suburban America erected in its place - Niketown, Barnes & Noble and condos, condos, condos. In fact, we can likely expect exclusively the latter, if Joe Sitt and Thor Equities prevails - their legacy of "Buy, Rezone & Flip" is well-known among developers. Sitt desires one thing in this deal - to raze the rest of Coney Island's amusements (he's already begun that process), and sell the land to developers who will put up ocean-front condominiums. So much for the amusement and happiness of the millions of people who have come to Coney Island for generations, to enjoy the rides, concessions and sheer mix of humanity. This is all about selling that short, for the sake of moneyed investors. Having loved Coney for as long as I have, I cannot imagine a more heinous crime.

Submitted by JR at: September 26, 2008
IMHO, Their will be no year round attraction, he will flip once he gets rezoning. Take one look at the companies history and say goodbye to the nostalgic Coney Island that has been enjoyed for centuries. No matter what is said it is a powerplay to get the land rezoned. Him and his rech friend will become more wealthy on this deal at the end of the day. Goodbye Coney, hello Condo. Sad, Sad Sad...

Submitted by Topsy at: September 26, 2008
Coney is seedy, tired, honky tony, BROKEN and is in MAJOR need of a makeover. The year round city plan with retail , even in it's modified form, is a BIG step in the RIGHT direction. Let's get the show on the road!

Submitted by JS at: September 26, 2008
I think these articles just make my company, Whor Equities, look bad. I mean, all we want is to squeeze the blood from Coney Island for our profit. Is that so wrong?