Thursday, March 20, 2008

Museum Of New York Panel Discussion Report

About seventy people gathered in the basement of the Museum of New York on 103 St. in Manhattan last night, to listen to a discussion between City Councilman Dominic Recchia, David Gratt of Coney Island USA, and Lynn Kelly of the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC).

The event started out with Kelly giving a lengthy explanation of the city's rezoning plan. This was essentially the same presentation that Kelly has given previously at several CIDC events, though she has now incorporated better graphics, as well as a list acknowledging concerns raised by area residents over the past few months.

The actual panel discussion - which was moderated by the charming Brad Lander of the Pratt Center for Community Development- began with Recchia giving a long and rambling account of how he had vowed to 'take on the city' and fight 'against the odds' to restore Coney Island to glory. He also explained that he singled handedly started the Coney Island Development Corporation - despite the city's attempts to suppress it - after receiving a mysterious package of documents in the mail, and that Joe Sitt is a close friend, who has fought fearlessly to protect Coney Island from other, less well intentioned developers.

Recchia actually had some good argument to be made that the city's plan to bring in one operator for the entire amusement area (which Kelly kept pushing throughout the night) could be problematic. Recchia pointed out that the city's renderings could only become a reality if investors were willing to build rides, and that this was less likely to happen if they were forced to operate on city land, under a city hired operator, rather than being allowed to develop on their own terms on their own land. However, the fact that Recchia was also clearly shilling for one particular land owner detracted from these arguments.

The situation came to a head when Gratt and Recchia furiously contracted each other over the facts of Sitt's negotiations with Coney Island USA, and again when an audience member demanded to know if Reccia received financial contributions from Sitt (Reccia sidestepped the question).

At the times when the issue of Sitt was not being discussed, the panel was actually civil, and quite interesting. Lander used pointed questions about public needs to guide the discussion towards issues such as ways in which development could benefit local residents (such as through new schools, community centers, and low to middle income housing), ways in which New York city could use Coney Island to support and retain its artistic community, and ways in which Coney Islands 'funkiness' and 'weirdness' could be protected and even encouraged through creative zoning.

- post by Ben Nadler


David Gratt said...

oh, come on, the discussion of Thor wasn't furious. Domenic said his part, I said mine, and Domenic felt that he needed to rebut me. But there wasn't yelling or anything. It was all pretty civil and we each made our points so that the audience could decide.

Anonymous said...

You report "an audience member demanded to know if Reccia received financial contributions from Sitt (Reccia sidestepped the question)."
Someone else who was there told me otherwise. They heard Recchia say Sitt was a friend and made contributions. It's public knowledge listed on the web. Contributions to Recchia for Congress are listed on the web too. Sitt's name not listed yet. But Recchia needs to raise lots more money, so we will see Sitt's name and his friends names there soon.

B. Nadler said...

David- 'Furious' may have been a poor choice of words on my part. I meant that your two accounts greatly clashed with each other in content, but I see how it reads as if you guys were acting furiously which, as you say, you were not. My apologies.