Like it or not, and some Coney Island businesses don’t like it at all, “NYC LARGEST FLEA MARKET WITH A FESTIVAL STYLE! [sic]” is on the verge of getting permits to open Aqueduct’s answer to Thor’s flopped Flea by the Sea in Coney. ATZ learned that Will McCarthy, the event organizer of the “BK Festival,” who already applied for a Temporary Place of Assembly Permit from the DOB, will meet with City officials on Thursday in hopes of speeding along necessary approvals from the FDNY and DEP. Sources say a meeting with the Brooklyn Borough President to discuss the festival’s plans is also on this week’s schedule.
We were about to post this news when an article by Liz Robbins in today’s NY Times caught our eye: “With Its Move to Coney Island, Flea Market Is Sprucing Up.” The news that the festival management is set to sign a lease with Joe Sitt and is adding “some lace and frills to dress up” the flea concept is no surprise. What’s surprising is that the NY Times has done a puff piece on Joe Sitt’s adventures in Coney Island.
“It’s a little nostalgic — I started my businesses as a flea market operator at the Aqueduct,” says Sitt. The reporter glosses over the fact that Sitt evicted amusements from this Coney Island property: “[Sitt] has razed some older buildings, angering some in the community, but the festival space on Stillwell was already vacant.” Actually this property is in a C-7 amusement zone where an amusement park with batting cages, go karts, bumper boats and mini golf thrived until Joe Sitt bought the land in 2006. He evicted the amusement operators to “allow the new development to proceed in a timely manner,” but has built NOTHING there except a failed flea market in 2009. (“Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt,” ATZ, March 3, 2010)
As for the Flea, the reporter takes Sitt’s word for it that his Flea by the Sea model was successful. “Two years ago, when the Aqueduct gaming project seemed imminent, [Sitt] recruited vendors, from pickle makers to bakers, alongside entertainers for a monthlong stint in Coney Island. The results convinced him the model would work.” What entertainers? The only entertainers that we observed were local bands onstage and a clown making balloon animals for kids. In fact the flea was widely considered a flop. For starters, look at our flickr set or comments from the disillusioned baker in Lifestyler Magazine.
Now back to our regularly scheduled post. The proposed locations for the flea’s “OVER 100,000 SQUARE FEET OF SHOPPERS DELIGHT!” are Thor Equities lots on both sides of Stillwell, where the disused tent frames from the 2009 flea remain. Thor’s lot on West 15th Street would also be activated. Although Coney Island’s C-7 amusement zoning (more on that later) does not specifically allow flea market use, it does allow temporary use for a fair. Thor’s Festival by the Sea aka Flea by the Sea in 2009 had such a permit.
The BK Festival website was taken offline last week after all the media hoopla about the flea market. It promised “All Day Entertainment, International Food Court and Kidz Zone, Pony Ride, and Rides.” ATZ left a voice mail message for the management asking for more info about the rides. We haven’t heard back yet.
UPDATE…10:20 am. We received an email from Will McCarthy, Event Director of BK Festival: “I wanted to reach out to you, as I know you have many concerns about our proposed project. I wanted to arrange a time when we can meet & discuss in detail all the wonderful family attractions we plan to bring to Coney Island this season. For the record BK Festival which will function like a state fair, comes to the new Coney Island with an array of colorful family experiences some of which includes – Monthly culturally themed activities, Interactive Sponsored Activities, Free Give Aways, Equestrian Center with pony rides & petting zoos, Live Entertainment (Concerts, Car Shows, Rodeos) International Food Court and our Outdoor Shopping Experience.” ATZ looks forward to bringing you a Q & A with the BK Festival Director in the coming days!
Are there any amusement parks in America that boast a flea market? A web search turned up a handful of defunct parks, including Williams Grove in Mechanicsburg, PA, which now host flea markets. A Yelper wrote: “Last time I was there I overhead a little boy whose comment to his dad really summed up the place best. ‘They closed down the park and turned it into a yard sale.'” On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Colorado’s Mile High Marketplace, a huge flea, farmers and antiques market with a few amusement rides. Coney Island, the birthplace of the amusement industry, is in a class by itself. Yet it’s become the guinea pig for Joe Sitt’s retail-by-the-sea aspirations.
Over the weekend, ATZ talked to a few Coney business operators to find out their opinion of the market. Ride and game operators said that it’s better than having empty lots. They preferred to have amusements, which would stay open late and draw crowds rather than a flea market that will be dark at night. In Coney Island, the crowd comes late and stays late, often till 2 am. But amusement operators seemed resigned to the fact that Thor wasn’t about to bring in a carnival again. In the years leading up to the rezoning, Sitt brought in Reithoffer Shows, Geren Rides and other temporary amusements.
Some business owners who sell food or souvenirs in Coney and pay high rent are worried that the flea vendors will undercut them with bargain basement prices and cheap merchandise. Parking is also a major concern. Will the vendors, who come early, take up the parking spaces ordinarily used by visitors? Paid parking is available for $10-$20 at the Aquarium and MCU, but it can be a traffic jam on weekends. The BK Festival website promises “Free Shuttle Bus Drives Tourist Traffic To Event.”
At Thor’s Flea by the Sea, stands selling clothing and shoes were a reminder that in April 2009 Sitt’s pitch book unsuccessfullly used to lobby BP Markowitz for 10,000 square feet retail touted flagship retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap/Banana Republic, and DSW (“Thousands of shoes…prices you love”). Was the flea market part of a strategy to win a variance from a future administration for 10,000 square foot retail?
And this brings us back to Coney Island’s C-7 Zoning. We’ve appended the complete list of Use Groups A, B, and C below since most people snooze at the thought of looking at a zoning document. “A1” is for Amusements and is of course our fave. Use Group C is Retail. It’s a little tricky to figure out how “OVER 100,000 SQUARE FEET OF SHOPPERS DELIGHT!” is permitted when Sitt failed to win 10,000 square foot retail and “Use Group C uses shall be limited to 2,500 square feet of floor area and 30 feet of street frontage, except that on corner lots one street frontage may extend up to 100 feet.” Oh, but this is a Temporary Fair. And how many years will that be? Until Joe Sitt develops the property or sells it.
(b) Bowery and Wonder Wheel Way
“At least 50 percent of Bowery and Wonder Wheel Way street frontage of any zoning lot shall be occupied by Use Group A1 use at the ground floor level, and not more than 50 percent of the Bowery and Wonder Wheel Way street frontage of any zoning lot shall be
occupied by Use Group C uses at the ground floor level.”
(d) Stillwell Avenue and West 10th Street
“At least 15 percent of the Stillwell Avenue and West 10th Street street frontage of any zoning lot shall be occupied by Use Group A1 uses at the ground floor level.
Use Group A1…Amusement arcades; Amusement parks, with no limitation on floor area per establishment; Animal exhibits, circuses, carnivals or fairs of a temporary nature; Camps, overnight or day, commercial beaches or swimming pools;Dark rides, electronic or computer-supported games, including interactive entertainment facilities, laser tag and motion simulators; Ferris wheels, flume rides, roller coasters, whips, parachute jumps, dodgem scooters, merry-go-rounds or similar midway attractions; Fortune tellers, freak shows, haunted houses, wax museums, or similar midway attractions; Miniature golf courses and model car hobby centers, including racing; Open booths with games of skill or chance, including shooting galleries and Water parks
Use Group A2…Arenas or auditoriums, with capacity limited to 2,000
seats; Billiard parlors or pool halls, table tennis halls or bowling alleys, with no limitation on number of bowling lanes per establishment; Gymnasiums or recreational sports facilities, including but not limited to indoor golf driving ranges, batting cages, basketball, volleyball, squash and other courts, without membership requirements; Skateboard parks, roller or ice skating rinks;Theaters, including movie theaters, provided such use does not occupy the ground floor level of a building, except for lobbies limited to a maximum street frontage of 30 feet, except that on corner lot one street frontage may extend up to 100 feet.
Use Group B: Amusement and entertainment-enhancing uses…
Art gallery, commercial; Banquet halls;Breweries; Eating or drinking establishments of any size, including those with entertainment or dancing; Historical exhibits; Spas and bathhouses;Studios, art, music, dancing or theatrical;Tattoo parlors; Radio or television studios; Wedding chapels
Use Group C: Retail and service uses
Arts and crafts production and sales, including but not limited to ceramics, art needlework, hand weaving or tapestries, book binding, fabric painting, glass blowing, jewelry or art metal craft and wood carving; Bicycle sales, rental or repair shops;Bookstores; Candy or ice cream stores; Clothing or clothing accessory; Clothing, custom manufacturing or altering for retail, including costume production and hair product manufacturing; Delicatessen stores; Fishing tackle or equipment, rental or sales; Gift shops; Jewelry manufacturing from precious metals; Musical instruments store; Music stores; Newsstands Patio or beach furniture or equipment; Photographic equipment stores and studios; Sporting goods or equipment, sale or rental, including instruction in skiing, sailing or skin diving; Toy stores
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March 29, 2011: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Close to Deal in Coney Island