Who is bidding on the RFP (Request for Proposals) to bring amusements to the City of New York’s soon-to-be-purchased 6.9 acres in Coney Island? It’s more like—who isn’t bidding? The contenders are quite literally from A for Astroland and Amusements of America to Z for Zamperla.
At last week’s IAAPA Attractions Expo in Vegas, amusement park and carnival operators and ride manufacturers were busy forming alliances and putting together proposals for the Astroland site (Parcel A) and Boardwalk properties (Parcels B and C). The City is offering up to a 10 year lease to a single operator or a team to develop what CIDC president Lynn Kelly described as “a new park that feels like Coney Island—it can’t be any cookie-cutter establishment.” The stakes are high: The person or team who pulls this off successfully is likely to be the top candidate ten years in the future for the RFP to operate the proposed 12-acre “Permanent Amusement Park” in Coney Island.
Most Likely To Succeed? The A’s and the Z
A is for Amusements of America, the Vivona family’s traveling carnival, which advertises itself as “America’s Most Imaginative Midway.” Based in New Jersey with winter quarters in South Carolina, A of A has been in negotiations with Joe Sitt since August to bring rides and attractions to Coney Island in 2010. The Vivonas made their first of two or three site visits to Coney Island when Thor Equities’ Dreamland Park and flea market were still open for business.
Asked if they’d apply for the Coney Island RFP, Amusement of America’s Dominic Vivona told ATZ, “”We’ve got our hat in the ring and we’re hoping we’ll get picked. So is everybody else.” As for the rumor they’re set to lease what remains of Sitt’s property on Stillwell and Surf: “It might happen. But nothing’s happening now,” said Vivona. Then he added: “We’re interested in going to Coney Island, whether it’s with the City or someone else.”
Amusements of America was founded in 1940 with the purchase of the Ferris Wheel from the 1939 World’s Fair and now has a mighty arsenal of rides. The Vivona’s route stretches from the Ohio State Fair to winter dates in the Caribbean. Among their innovations is one of the first traveling schools for children whose parents work with the carnival. If you’ve been to the State Fair Meadowlands in New Jersey, which boasts “over 150 rides and attractions,” you’ve been to Amusements of America’s midway. Will A of A send their Crazy Mouse coaster to Coney Island for the season?
A is for Astroland, the hometown favorite, and for Carol Albert, the longtime operator of Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster and co-sponsor of the Friday night fireworks. The public perception is that Astroland is Coney Island and the City’s purchase of the former Astroland site assures the return of the beloved park. Astroland was founded by Albert’s father-in-law Dewey Albert in 1962. In 1987, on the 25th anniversary of Astroland, the New York Post hailed the Alberts as “the family that keeps Coney Island rolling,” adding that while so much of Coney Island had burned down or was in decay, the Alberts kept the Cyclone running and kept expanding the park. By way of explanation, Dewey’s son Jerome Albert told the reporter, “We have sand in our shoes.”
When we first met Carol Albert in 2004 to interview her for a story about Astroland for IAAPA’s Funworld Magazine, we learned that before Albert began managing the family owned park, she had a successful career as a novelist and editor in chief. Our favorite Carol Albert quote in the story is “I think the amusement business engages a lot of the same sensibilities as the literary field. I mean it helps if you’re a close observer of people and what they like.”
Albert has been working for some time on plans for a futuristic Astroland Park featuring a majority of new rides. It makes us think about George C. Tilyou building a bigger, better Steeplechase after his first park was damaged by a fire. The second Steeplechase captured people’s imagination with its new steel and glass Pavilion of Fun, unique rides like the Human Pool Table, an array of carousels, and a longer and improved Steeplechase ride. The second Astroland’s new rides and attractions would be a potent symbol of the rebirth of Coney Island. At the same time, we yearn for the return of the iconic Surf Avenue gate and the demon from Dante’s Inferno.
Z is for the international ride manufacturer Zamperla, which operates Victorian Gardens in New York’s Central Park as well as its own amusement park in Italy. According to “MinitaliaLeolandia – Zamperla’s New Showroom!” in the July issue of Park World, the company took a stake in a park 90 minutes from their factory to showcase their rides and now two thirds of the park’s major attractions are Zamperla-built. Alberto Zamperla told Park World: “First of all, my family used to be ride operators. Zamperla is one of the most innovative companies in the business and we have come up with many new rides in recent years. To have all these new rides not far away from the factory, it’s a great thing. The park also benefits because it gets new rides on the market that no on else has; there is a very good synergy.” Will Coney Island’s new amusement park become a showroom for Zamperla’s New Jersey-based North American operation?
Zamperla’s website has 80 rides including some of our favorite kiddie rides as well as thrill rides: the Power Surge, Disk’O Coaster and Surf’s Up. The Vertical Swing is Zamperla’s version of the Star Flyer ride featured in the CIDC’s original renderings. The Coney Island Rumor Mill got wind of Zamperla’s interest in Coney Island this summer. The idea was the company would try out prototypes in Coney Island, an exciting prospect that calls to mind the heyday of Coney when the first models of any new rides would come here. But there wasn’t much point in speculating about it until the City announced the $100M land buy on Nov 11, one week after the re-election of Mayor Bloomberg. ATZ’s sources at the IAAPA show confirmed that Zamperla is indeed a contender.
Zamperla, whose CEO of their US division is on the CIDC’s Amusement Advisory Board, is considered the front runner by other potential bidders. Some of them were saying “done deal” due to the short time frame and terms of the RFP. But a number of other CIDC Amusement Advisory Board members are rumored to be fielding their own proposals. Notable among them is Board Chair Jim Seay of Premier Rides, a coaster manufacturer. A reread of the EDC’s original press release from March 2009 confirms that these experts were invited to “help structure and expedite the City’s plans for interim amusements at Coney Island in Summer 2010. The panel will also assist the City in continued planning efforts for a permanent amusement operation and development of a 27-acre amusement and entertainment district at Coney Island.” Foot in door? Definitely. Done deal? We’ll find out who won soon enough. The RFP deadline is December 18. In mid-December, the NYCEDC “selects a short list of respondents and sends draft lease for respondent review.” The final selection will be made in January 2010.
Other members of the Coney Island Amusement Advisory Panel are Chip Cleary, Senior VP, Palace Entertainment and First Vice Chair, IAAPA Executive Board; Jim Pattison, President, Ripley Entertainment, Inc.; Tony Catanoso, President & CEO, Atlantic City Steel Pier; Nikki Nolan, Executive VP & Managing Director of International, Great Wolf Resorts; David Rockwell, Founder and CEO, Rockwell Group; Valerio Ferrari, President & CEO, Zamperla USA; Kieran E. Burke, former Chairman and CEO of Six Flags, Inc.; Al Weber, Management Affiliate, MidOcean Partners and former President & CEO, Palace Entertainment; Will Morey and Jack Morey, Co-Owners, The Morey Organization.
It’s more like—who isn’t bidding?
C is for current, former and wannabe Coney Island operators who are reported to be bidding on Parcel B to replace the lost batting cages and go karts, which were bulldozed by Joe Sitt when he acquired the land from Hy Singer. Since the RFP favors a single operator for all three parcels, we have to wonder if they’ve teamed up with operators bidding on the other two lots?
D is for three separate bidders associated with two different Dreamlands. We just want to clarify that this trio of Dreamlanders has no connection whatsoever with Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink or the recently rediscovered Dreamland Bell! The proliferation of Dreamlands was inspired by Coney’s original Dreamland Park (1904-1911).
Anthony Raffaele, who operated Dreamland Park on Thor Equities’ property in 2009 is said to be applying. Glenn Geren, who owned the majority of rides at Thor’s Dreamland in 2008 and 2009 told ATZ “I will definitely apply.” Before Joe Sitt shuttered Dreamland and sold the property to the city, Geren completed purchase of a Reverchon Himalaya, a Schwarzkopf Wildcat Coaster and other rides with the intention of bringing them to Coney Island in 2010. Bob DeStefano’s Dreamland Amusements, a Long Island-based carnival that has no association whatsoever with Thor Equities’ Dreamland is reportedly preparing a bid as well.
We know some potential bidders are being secretive or cagey, so we’ll keep their names a secret for now. With 14,700 VIP registrants at the IAAPA Attractions Expo and the Coney Island Development Corporation’s high visibility as a Silver Sponsor, we’re pretty sure there are other bidders who aren’t on our radar. This makes it hard to predict who will end up getting the job. We’re just thrilled that it looks like it’s going to be a Happy New Year for Coney Island’s amusement area and we’re going to be getting a lot of new rides and attractions starting Memorial Day 2010. We can’t wait till ATZ readers stop asking the question “Is Coney Island closed?”
Related posts on ATZ…
January 26, 2010: Scoop: Zamperla’s $24M Coney Island Park to be Named Luna Park!
November 25, 2009: Photo Album: Coney Island Shines at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009 in Vegas
August 5, 2009: Coney Island Has 56 Rides and 33 More Days of Summer!