Saturday, November 14, 2009

Coney Island Gets Early Christmas Gift

The Grinch who stole Coney Island has given part of it back! After gobbling up parcel after parcel of precious real estate over the past four years and failing to establish any semblance of a permanent business on any of them, Thor Equities CEO Joe Sitt has finally agreed to sell a portion of his holdings back to the City.

The stand-off between Sitt and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a long and frustrating one. Even after the City's hotly debated redevelopment plan was approved this past summer, it was unclear whether their ambitious plans would ever come to fruition due to the smattering of Thor properties that were located right in the heart of the amusement district. But after a year of failed negotiations between the two parties, it was announced on Thursday that Sitt has agreed to sell approximately seven acres of prime real estate to the City for a cool $95.6 million. The parcels changing hands include the former site of Astroland as well as a couple other half-block sites located between the boardwalk and Surf Avenue. Both sides are said to have described the deal as a "win-win" situation.

The City is wasting no time in putting their new holdings to use. Yesterday they put out a request for proposals seeking parties who would be interested in developing and operating an amusement park and/or other entertainment venues on the three sites. Proposals are due by December 18, with one of the requirements being that the developer must have amusements in place on the former Astroland site (if not all three sites) in time for the 2010 summer season. Former Astroland owner Carol Albert previously stated that she intended to throw her hat into the ring if such an RFP were to be issued, so the chance of the storied park rising from the ashes of its former lot is a very real (though by no means guaranteed) possibility. It will be interesting to see how the situation plays out.

While local residents are cautiously optimistic about the City's "new deal", don't expect to seem them asking either Joe Sitt or Michael Bloomberg to carve the roast beast just yet. The fact remains that Thor still owns 5.6 acres of Coney Island, and even the City's plan does not prevent high-rises from springing up right next to--and possibly choking--the famed amusement district. Nevertheless, nobody disputes the fact that this week's agreement is a step in the right direction. The Mayor has promised that Coney Island will "be back" in 2010. I hope he's right!