Not done desecrating Coney Island’s amusement area by evicting longtime tenants and creating empty lots, Thor Equities moved on to London in 2010. Joe Sitt’s first European acquisition was the Burlington Arcade, London’s first covered shopping arcade, built in 1819, which was purchased with Meyer Bergman.
London’s reaction to the developers’ plan to modernize the historic arcade calls to mind the uproar that greeted Thor’s original plan to Vegas-ify and mall-ify Coney Island. “Owners about to turn 192 years of history into a bland mall,” tweeted antique silver dealer and arcade tenant Daniel Bexfield, who is leading a campaign to Save Burlington Arcade. “In case you didn’t know, anyone from anywhere can lodge a complaint with Westminster City planning department,” he told ATZ. If you’d like to file a transatlantic protest, here’s a copy of the campaign letter:
19th March 2012
‘Save Burlington Arcade’ – AGAIN!
I am writing to ask for your help once more. The campaign to Save Burlington Arcade has been spurred back into action just a few months after our victory last year. The Arcade owners have now submitted fresh plans to Westminster City Planning Department to replace the existing floor with a brand new highly-polished black and beige quartzite tiled floor.
Hard shiny quartzite can already be seen in modern shopping malls (and bathrooms) the world over. I believe it would be completely out of character and wholly inappropriate in the Arcade, which is not a Las Vegas or Dubai-style shopping mall. When the original applications were submitted last year to ‘modernise’ the Arcade, celebrity protestors included Dame Judy Dench, Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley along with other notable supporters such as Deputy London Mayor Kit Malthouse, Ken Livingstone, the Baroness Boothroyd, Rob Brydon, Alan Davies, Kelly Hoppen, Jay Rayner and Michael Winner. They all lined up alongside hundreds of ‘ordinary’ horrified Londoners and visitors alike, to make their feelings known.
The Arcade’s foreign owners (Joseph Sitt of Thor Equities & Mayer Bergman) dreamed up sweeping changes, with infamous American ‘architect’ Peter Marino, to oust small traders in favour of big-name fashion brands such as Prada, Gucci and Chanel with their infinitely deeper pockets.
Burlington Arcade is part of our heritage and must be preserved. If commercial owners do not appreciate what they are buying into when they invest into such unique properties, that is their problem – we should not let them vandalise our city just to make a quick buck.
The clock is ticking – and we only have until March 31st to lodge objections to their submitted planning application. Anyone who wishes to object must do so quickly – details of how to object can be found at my website: www.bexfield.co.uk.
Or you can write to: Westminster City Planning Department, Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6QP, quoting the reference no. 12/01433/LBC, along with your name and address, stating that you ‘object to the application’.
Last year, Sitt launched a defense of his plans for the Burlington Arcade in an interview with the Financial Times of London. He brought up his track record with three historic properties in the U.S.– the Palmer House in Chicago, the Phelan Building in San Francisco and good old Coney Island. Sitt said: “In all three situations, there were critics who doubted we could revitalise these buildings and neighborhoods while staying true to their unique history. And in all three places we’ve already proved–or are in the process of proving–those doubters wrong.”
London’s Westminster Council is to be commended for meeting the challenge of preserving an historic property. To the Council, we would say Joe Sitt has a long way to go to prove the Coney Island doubters wrong. What he has done here is evict amusement operators, demolish historic buildings and create empty lots. After seven years of predatory real estate speculation and many grandiose renderings, Thor Equities first-ever new construction in Coney Island (flea market tents don’t count) was revealed to be a sterile-looking building suited for a suburban mall. Thor’s space for lease signs with the odious slogan “Coney Island: Retail Ride of a Lifetime” are an insult to Coney’s unique and glorious history. The vacant new building stands on the site of a century-old music hall that was sacrificed by the City of New York in the Coney Island rezoning and demolished by Thor Equities.
Related posts on ATZ…
February 2, 2012: Thor’s Coney Island: Generic New Building at Surf & Stillwell
September 9, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Faber’s Fascination Goes Dark After 50 Years