Coney Island's Astroland Goes Dark
By Laryssa Wirstiuk | Online Only | Sept. 25, 2008
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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