Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Did The City Also Help Give Astroland The Big Boot?

Image courtesy of Simbolism (

After more than four decades Astroland Park, has been the focal point that has allowed the amusements in Coney Island to keep its heart beat. But now it has closed and will be gone, and in its wake, leaving Coney Island, the amusement center; lifeless forever. It all started when the city decided it demanded a year-round Coney Island which was perhaps the beginning of Astroland's demise. Co-Owner and operator Carol Albert saw big new tenants and speculators hovering over Coney Island when they smelled rezoning. They bought up land around her and promised year-round. The city pressed on causing Albert to buckle under those demands and sell for a cheap $30 million, (compared to smaller water-front property in the area which resold for more than double that). Albert couldn't convert her outdoor park to year-round so she sold to Thor Equities. Her new landlord gave them a lease extension for 2008 but she did not meet with the same luck for 2009. And though she may have demanded a two-year extension at the same rate by a certain time, Thor Equities didn't want to negotiate under those conditions. Thor spokesman Stefan Friendman said to the press that they [Thor] will not negotiate through the media or with a gun held to their heads. Friendman who spoke over the phone with Kinetic Carnival last week and who preferred the conversation be kept 'off the record', basically wanted to clear one misconception. He said Thor was always in constant communication with Albert for various issues including arranging special events at Astroland. But with the lease issue, Albert wanted it her way or nothing. What he did agree to be quoted about was that "Thor is very committed to amusements" and that they will do the best they can to fill Coney Island with amusements and attractions next year. However, Thor may be used to dealing, they still chose to ignore Albert's specific situation - in which she either needed time to sell their rides or give her 300 employees stability for two more years.

When Astroland finally shut its gates Sunday, September 7, 2008, Coney Island Development Corporation president, Lynn Kelly said "
This further underscores the need for the City’s comprehensive rezoning plan." Now Lynn Kelly claims the city tried to save Astroland in a recent September 12th letter (posted by Tricia on the CIUSA message board). Kelly said, [The city and the CIDC] "proposed a potential scenario in which Thor could provide Astroland with a one-year lease extension". However, Kelly doesn't state, specially, how they tried to save the park. Kelly further states that, "Recent events make it crystal clear that the current zoning has not protected the amusements, as an area that once boasted more than 60 acres of rides."

On the Coney Island USA message board, frequent poster,
Switchback explains how the city is at fault for doing nothing to save or relocate Astroland - or far worse, blaming the rezoning push for upsetting the amusement applecart in the first place. Anytime you decide to rezone you attract the speculators.

Switchback writes:

The reason why rides still exist there is because it was not zoned for anything but amusements. The only time that zoning fails is when city officials like yourself announce that the property will be rezoned, then land speculating vultures like Thor Equities comes swooping in.

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The city also has eminent domain as a remedy. They seem to have no problem using it against the poor and small business owners in areas like Harlem, Willets Point, and next to the Atlantic Yards. What a shame you all have the attitude that it is undignified to use it against the rich and big corporations even if that rich person is a known con artist who has already defrauded the city.

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