Saturday, May 16, 2009

Industry Experts Tapped to Provide Advice on Coney Island's Future

© 2009 Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

In case you've been living under a rock, one of the biggest industry headlines to hit the press this week was the release of the recommendations made by the Coney Island Amusement Advisory Panel. The panel, which was chaired by Jim Seay (President of Premier Rides, Inc.) and moderated by Jack Rouse (CEO of Jack Rouse Associates), was convened by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) to assess the current climate at Coney Island and brainstorm ideas that would help guide the city as it moves forward with its proposed redevelopment plans.

Members of the panel were hand-picked to represent "a diverse cross-section of the industry" and included representatives from nearby seaside amusement areas Morey's Piers and Steel Pier. All in all, it was an impressive collection of talents. Yet one of the selections struck me as peculiar: Kieran Burke. Kieran Burke? Really? If I'm not mistaken, this is the same man who was largely responsible for the near destruction and continuing financial woes of another big name company in the industry. And not surprisingly, he was actually quoted in one article as stating, "I would say that one of the things that would be important here would ultimately, in the amusement zone, be some signature rides that people really want to come and do." Riiiiiiiiight. Because that line of thinking worked really well for you at Six Flags.

But I digress. The fact of the matter is, Burke is a certain extent. This sentiment, among others, was echoed by the overall committee within the seven points they presented back to the city yesterday. The press release, which is quite comprehensive, has already been regurgitated to death on nearly every enthusiast site known to mankind, so I will not bore you by posting it again here. Instead, I will give you my 50 cent assessment of their thoughts.

Overall, I think the panel got it right. The history and mystique of Coney Island are second to none in terms of industry landmarks, and these assets must be preserved in order to maintain the character of the area. Open admission, careful selection of vendors (i.e., NO STRIP MALLS OR CONDOS!), and a focus on the seaside atmosphere are key. But as the panel notes, the old must be carefully balanced with the new to create a Coney Island that is sustainable moving forward and attractive to up-and-coming generations of patrons who expect 21st century thrills and amenities. It is a precarious balance, but I do believe that it can be achieved under the right leadership.

The one aspect of the plan that concerns me is the shift to a single operator/developer. Historically, it is diversity among individual operators and developers which has made Coney Island the unique amusement district that it is. Would Deno's really be Deno's if it weren't run by the Vourderis family? Minimal oversight of the district may not be a bad thing in and of itself; in fact, it very well may help the area to blossom into an even better "People's Playground". But I would hate to see a single entity be put in charge of all things Coney Island. I've never run an amusement park and the notion of me falling into the category of "industry expert" is downright laughable, but that's my vote and I'm sticking to it!