Tuesday, January 08, 2008

CIDC Panel Wins This Round Over Kruger's Lament

Last night’s CIDC: Coney Island Development Corporation meeting and information session was not the colorful political circus whirling with Coney flavor and character that was predicted. Besides a random fumbling heckler and New York Senator Carl Kruger mistaking Coney Island for Brighton Beach and the amusement core for the aquarium, as well as the usual bevy of cameras scurrying frantically to catch every flinch, it was business as usual. Much of the same, from the last meeting at the Our Lady of Solace meeting, was presented. With a few exceptions. Despite Purnima Kapur going over the rezoning and mapping framework, Lynn Kelly did in fact address prior concerns that have been raised since the last meeting and information session.

At the start, the panel went into more detail about the land use framework, the parkland strategy, and over the rezoning proposals. CIDC president, Lynn Kelly covered the items to talk about and once again recognized the parking problem but did not mention any possible solutions. She stressed that the new plan would provide an array of employment opportunities. “Jobs, jobs, jobs, and more jobs. We’ve heard [the concerns that] it’s really important that the amount of jobs that this plan generates, actually is directly fed into the community. and that the community has the opportunity to not only access these jobs but get the training for these jobs as well”, said Kelly. She also went on to mention their recognition of other several important issues on infrastructure, circulation of the public in and out of the area, as well as the dilapidation of the boardwalk and the sewer and back up problems that arise after every rain fall. Kelly also mentioned the aquarium which wasn’t usually mentioned specifically in their plans. She said, “It’s amazing that we have this ocean front destination for an aquarium, but when you’re in the aquarium you can’t actually see the ocean. So, we have an opportunity there to really invest in some of our public institutions”.

For all the critics who claim this plan is a Disneyfication of Coney Island; Brooklyn city planning director, Purnima Kapur made it clear that they fully intend to preserve the Coney tradition in character and function. “The main goal here is maintaining Coney Island’s unique history, character…culture...to ensure the future of this amusement area. We think that Coney Island’s cache as a premier amusement destination has something that is really important. We can build upon that to create a 21st century destination that actually hearkens back to its history. We do not want to lose the essence of Coney Island as we project into the future. And try to bring new uses, new jobs, and new functions to this area. We want to keep it vibrant, affordable, and as an urban amusement area. This is not your suburban Disney park. And we want to keep it that way”, stressed Kapur. She also made it clear that their plan is an integrated mission. Where it’s not only an amusement area but also fuses the existing community and its future residents who’ll live, work, and play in Coney Island.

Later the panel was asked “If the city hasn’t been able to fix the boardwalk, how is it going to be successful at an amusement park?” Lynn Kelly answered, “The first thing I want to stress is that, before we even begin an RFP process, we would work with the experts, we’ve already been trying to do that. We attended a number of international amusement conferences, spoken to many of the amusement operators. Some of them are even in this room…to really educate ourselves on the subject. And the one thing we’ve learned...no matter if you’re a large amusement park and out in the suburbs or if you’re a small urban amusement park – the most successful ones have one thing in common. And that’s usually a common management entity”. She pointed out that one management entity can provide security, maintenance, programming, special events, and the reinvestment of new rides.

In giving the positive points on the parkland plan she brought up the fact that the Cyclone and the Parachute Jump already sit on parkland owned by the city. It’s a way to preserve and protect an amusement area, she indicated. The parkland strategy also gives the city the ability to acquire properties within the mapped parkland areas. But Kelly made one thing clear, “The city is not intending to use eminent domain or condemnation for acquisition of these parcels”. Her comment received applause by the audience. She said that they have already been in conversation with the various property owners that are within the mapped parkland parcels. And she hopes they will be able to reach some type of agreement. The city will also encourage land owners in the area to decide if they would work with them in contributing ideas and how they could be part of the plan…or not. Which, to most critics of this plan looks like an ultimatum forced onto Thor Equities and other land owners by the city. In the long run, could that mean; if these land owners don’t work with them, that they will then indeed use eminent domain?

When it comes to the issues that concern most of the outspoken individuals that attend these meetings, it’s usually employment and economic growth. Kelly stated that over a ten year period we can accept roughly 20,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs which range from retail to hospitality and from the entertainment and amusement sectors. With the help of a few existing organizations they will ensure that local Coney residents get first pecking at these no-experience-required jobs.

After Lynn Kelly and Purnima Kapur made their points and walked us through the framework of the plan - it was time to let the attendees speak. New York Senator Carl Kruger was the first to wabble his way up to the front as an inaudible heckler was being taken by force out of the building. Kruger denounced the preceding event as a circus act. He cried out, “This community has been on a roller coaster ride of failed promises and hopeless dreams! And tonight this plan is no different. Tonight we talk about a plan that has no developer! No financing! That has no finite date of completion! Nor anywhere in the remotest possibility of getting started! Only last week did we get the city, at least, to wake up and smell the coffee, and understand that they have to go through an environmental review process before they can present a resolution to the city council”. But Kruger must have been confused as to what meeting he was attending because he went on to say, “This is not Yankee Stadium or the Bronx. […] this is Brighton Beach!” This got an immediate reaction from the audience. Kruger ignored them and continued proclaiming that “this is not DisneyLand, this is not Epcot, this is Brighton Beach”. Which by then threw him out of accordance with most of the audience as they grumbled and corrected him. When past his three-minute time limit the audience continued heckling and growling at him and not letting him speak. Competing with the audience rumble he shouted out that we need to make the aquarium the epicenter of what Coney Island and Brighton Beach was all about. He stressed, “We need a Coney Island representation on the development board. We don’t need a Manhattan centric mentality to decide what’s good for our neighborhoods”. Finally, with his stern finger waving at the crowd, he warned, through his promise, that if the proposal which is required to go through state legislative approval for alienation of parkland lands in Albany without the voice of the community, it will be D.O.A.! Dead on arrival! That’s when the meeting’s moderator announced that his time was already up. The audience’s applause seemed more in favor of him leaving the stage proscenium area than in favor of his proclamation.

Kruger was followed by public comments which were at some points inaudible as well as most not facing the audience but instead the panel and the media which horded around each speaker. Though it dwindled down, by the end of the session the crowd significantly thinned out. And as the evening came to a close, those remaining, scurried off and cleared out pretty quickly.

One important point that is always mentioned but falls short of finding a creative and productive solution is the traffic and parking problem. If the problem already exists today, it will be major havoc if this plan were to become a reality. There are solutions to the problem but it takes creative thinking and major effort to influence many departments in the process. But in the long run, it can even create more jobs and revenue. There could be parking facilities built to absorb most of the visitors that descend to the area. The facilities could also house retail and entertainment components which could, in return, be its revenue source. A shuttle or light transportation method that was once mentioned for the plan can also pass through this parking facility and transport visitors to and from the amusement core. Clearing the main backbone of Surf Avenue as a pedestrian-only glorious thoroughfare.

Other points or questions not brought up are how to best ensure local Coney residents be upfront for obtaining those jobs without creating the strain on the various companies in the private sector by having these companies deal with the cost and time it takes to train inexperienced employees instead of working with the experienced individuals they usually hire.

However, there is still time to work out many kinks and problems with the plan. But with any plan or proposal for the redevelopment of Coney Island, it will come with many problems and conflicts. Unlike those opposed to this plan, at least this is a plan. And no plan comes without its magnificent hurdles. And unlike Thor and Sitt’s plan, this one could ensure the preservation of the amusement area. And yet like both plans, a failed amusement business could close and bring Coney to a worse darkened fate. Or could it? The most ideal plan would be that which would comprise of many smaller amusement operators. But without incentive and municipal help, they can not survive. Perhaps a better plan would have the city build a flexible model that is compartmentalized to allow the smaller and medium sized, inventive, amusement proprietor to thrive instead of the one big world class operator to dominate and monopolize Coney. Something like this would be similar to what Aaron Beebe has been devising for the spaces that will become available in the newly-acquired Coney Island USA building; an assistance for unique and creative businesses.

Much yet has to be seen. But let’s hope this in not another broken dream and failed promise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for your report- great job!
the tv stations sent a lot of reporters and cameras and did a lousy one-sided job