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Thor's Coney Island

Thor’s Coney Island: Aerial view of vacant lots on south side of the Bowery between W 12th and W 15th where amusements once thrived. July 7, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Thor Equities’ huge vacant lots on Stillwell Avenue in the heart of Coney Island were cleaned up over the weekend and two different sources say rides are coming. The news is unconfirmed and it’s hard not to be skeptical considering the history of what’s been here since Joe Sitt acquired the land and began evicting longtime ride and park operators in 2006. But everybody — or almost everybody– wants to see the property activated instead of sadly sitting vacant (and yes, that is a pun). If temporary rides are in the stars for Thor’s Coney Island this season, let’s hope it works out this time. Despite various amusement operators efforts to negotiate lease deals, the lots remained vacant in 2010 and again last year.

Ring of Fire

Geren Rides’ Ring of Fire on Stillwell Ave in Coney Island, July 5, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita

A little history in case you weren’t around to experience the drama: In October 2006, eight amusement businesses, including Norman Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City and Eddie Miranda’s Zipper, which inspired the film Zipper, received notice from new property owner Thor Equities to be out by the end of the year. On Memorial Day Weekend 2008, Joe Sitt proclaimed “The Summer of Hope” and filled the reviled empty lots on Stillwell with carnival rides from Reithoffer Shows and Geren Rides for a limited run. Hope died when the rides left in mid-July and were replaced by a couple of inflatable bounces.

inflatable bouncer

After the carnival left: Batman and Cinderella’s Castle inflatable bounces on Thor’s vacant lot in Coney Island. August 8, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita

Skeptics said the amusements were a ruse in the lead-up to the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009. At the time, Sitt and the City were at a standoff in negotiations over a compromise plan that would reduce the acreage of the amusement zone and allow high-rise hotels on the south side of Surf Avenue.

Cobra Ride

The Cobra was among the flat rides at Cha Cha’s Steeplechase Park on Stillwell Avenue. June 23, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

Failed flea markets made a mockery of the rezoning in 2009 and 2011. “Festival by the Sea” and the “BK Festival” were granted City permits as a “temporary fair” because a flea market is not a permitted use on this property in Coney Island. Clever, huh? In 2012, rides, games and sideshows returned to Thor’s Stillwell lots for the first time since 2008. As a critic of flea markets on land where the Tornado roller coaster (1927-1977) and the Bobsled (1941-1974) had once thrilled, we were happy to see the BK Festival and Thor Equities take this new direction.

Among the rides were the Cobra, which amusement park blogger The DOD3 describes as White Trash Carny Ride #7. “Every Cobra I’ve been on looks like it’s stuck in a 70s timewarp but they all give wonderfully intense rides,” he writes. Other WTCRs on his list are the Skydiver (#1), the Zipper (#3) and the Trabant (#9), all of which Coney used to have. A Trabant was one of the rides at Dreamland, a temporary park on the former Astroland site in 2009.

BK Festival: Giant Slide on Stillwell Avenue West. April 8, 2012. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

There were problems at the Stillwell Avenue park from the get-go. Originally set to open on Memorial Day Weekend 2012, the park was not able to open till four weeks later. A Giant Slide and Zipline never opened at all. Filing of paperwork with City agencies and bureaucratic red tape was blamed for the delay. City permitting issues relating to fencing closed the park intermittently and irregular hours had some visitors asking if and when it was open. The Mega Whirl, a prototype ride that combined the thrill of the Whip and the Tilt-A-Whirl debuted here and its abandoned platform remains on the lot, a symbol of financial ruin and broken dreams.

MegaWhirl Ride in Coney Island

MegaWhirl Ride and Zipline on Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island. November 11, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

March 11, 2014: Thor’s Coney Island: BurgerFi, Arcade Coming to Stillwell & Surf

March 10, 2014: High Hopes for Coney Island’s New Thunderbolt Coaster

October 17, 2013: The New Coney Island: Thor Equities Vacant Lots, Dummy Arcades

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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Arcade Sign

Arcade Sign, Thor Equities Building at Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island, July 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

At the Alliance for Coney Island Gala last Thursday, ATZ stopped by Thor Equities’ table to network. Seriously, it was a great opportunity to find out the answer to a question that’s been on our mind since last season. Will there be arcade machines in Thor’s retail building this year? The building has gorgeously lit, expensive signage for two arcades where there’s nothing but “Retail Space for Lease” signs. As we’ve noted previously, it makes a mockery of the City’s 2009 rezoning requiring a percentage of amusements on the property. The dummy arcades are our pet peeve.

Good news! Glenn Vogel, Director of Leasing for Thor Equities told ATZ that one of the two arcades had been leased and will open for business this spring. The reason the arcades were not previously leased, despite many inquiries, was that Thor wanted to put something new and different in the space, Vogel explained. We promised to be the first one there to play on the arcade’s opening day!

BurgerFi

BurgerFi Cheeseburger. Photo via BurgerFi Facebook

The other piece of news that Vogel was able to confirm is the rumor that’s been floating around Coney Island that BurgerFi is coming to the Stillwell Avenue side of Thor’s building. The Delray Beach, Florida-based burger and hot dog chain has reportedly leased the vacant store between Brooklyn Rock and the Brooklyn Nets, which will put them right across the street from Nathan’s and around the corner from a Johnny Rockets. Thor’s building’s roof deck, which hasn’t been used with the exception of a private party last summer, is part of the deal.

Launched in 2011, BurgerFi now has 62 locations, including franchisees. According to their franchising FAQs:

Our natural burgers are a healthful, wholesome and guilt free indulgence made from fresh, never frozen natural Angus beef that is hormone and antibiotic free and raised humanly to create the best tasting burger possible. All beef dogs, real dairy fresh frozen custard and fresh cut fries, as well as craft beer and wine, are all served up in our urban hip design setting.

BurgerFi is the latest national chain to come to the new Coney Island. Back in 2012, ATZ asked “Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?” (December 19, 2012). Clearly, the answer is yes. Like attracts like. In 2014, Johnny Rockets, Red Mango, Rita’s Italian Ice and Subway Cafe, which are currently under construction, are expected to join It’Sugar, Applebee’s, Popeye’s, Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins and Subway on the main drag of Coney’s amusement district. Also on Surf and in a category unto themselves are Nathan’s original 1916 store, which is a year-round magnet for tourists, and Brooklyn-grown Grimaldi’s Pizzeria.

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Related posts on ATZ…

January 3, 2014: New Year, New Franchise: Rita’s Italian Ice Coming to Coney Island

September 11, 2013: Subway Cafe to Replace Furniture Store on Coney Island’s Surf Ave

April 11, 2013: Thor’s Coney Island: Wampum Clothing & Skate Pop-Up to Open in May

February 13, 2013: Thor’s Coney Island: Candy Retailer It’Sugar to Open Surf Ave Store

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Surf Avenue

On the Market: Taconic’s former ‘Coney Island North Venture,’ vacant parcels of land on north side of Surf Ave. between W 16th and W 20th Streets

Last year, the landmark Childs Building on the Boardwalk and a neighboring lot zoned for condos became part of iStar Financial’s portfolio when Taconic Investment Partners, which acquired the properties in 2005, defaulted on loans. Now the other shoe has dropped. Taconic’s “Coney Island North Venture,” three city blocks on the north side of Surf Avenue across from the Brooklyn Cyclones stadium totaling over 100,000 square feet of vacant land, is on the market.

ATZ learned of the offering from Coney Island broker Joe Vitacco. Neither Taconic nor iStar is mentioned in a two-page teaser for “Surf Avenue Assemblage: Prime Coney Island Mixed Use Development Opportunity.” Nor is the price. Interested persons are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement with the listing broker to find out additional info.

According to the brokers, R7-X and C2-4 zoning allows for approximately 380,426 buildable square feet as-of-right or up to 507,235 buildable square feet with inclusionary housing on 101,447 square feet of parcels. Combined Assessment/Taxes Due for 2013 and ’14 are $1,668,753/$185,488.

“Buyers can also explore a larger assemblage opportunity by incorporating adjacent sites currently owned by HPD,” says the flier. “Developers will also be able to take advantage of the property’s significant retail frontage. With few assemblages of this scale ever coming to market, the Surf Avenue Assemblage represents a unique opportunity to develop a project in one of New York City’s most dynamic submarkets.”

Coney Island Aerial: Detail of Conceptual Rendering. CIDC Press Kit

Coney Island Aerial: Detail of Conceptual Rendering Shows Residential Towers West and North of the Brooklyn Cyclones Stadium. CIDC Press Kit, 2009

Up until a few years ago when they fell silent, Taconic Investment Partners planned to build a glittering city of high-rise apartments and retail west and north of MCU Park. Their Senior VP of Acquisitions and his colleagues were a regular presence at hearings leading up to the Coney Island Rezoning of July 2009. According to Taconic’s website, the rezoning “significantly increased our buildable floor areas for mixed-use residential and retail projects to between 1.8 million and 2.4 million square feet, with the potential to create nearly 2,000 residential units and more than 200,000 square feet of retail space.”

The parcels between W 16th and W 20th Streets have been vacant since the wave of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s, says Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson, who grew up a few blocks away and documented the razing of the neighborhood in his photos. The RKO Tilyou, operated by the Tilyou family across the street from their Steeplechase Park on Surf at West 17th was demolished in 1973.

Coney Island North and South Venture

Rendering of Coney Island North and South Venture, Taconic Real Estate Investment Partners

Taconic’s plans for their “Coney Island North and South Venture” remain on their website. Only the players are changing.

As Taconic CEO William Bendit told Eliot Brown of the New York Observer in an interview in 2009: “What attracted us to Coney Island was the fact that it’s vacant land—we didn’t have to dispossess anybody, relocate anybody. And it’s the beachfront. How much beachfront land is there in New York City? Not only that, but beachfront land that’s accessible to the subway. So, if you think about it, how many young people, or anybody, for that matter, would like to commute into New York or Brooklyn, and go home at night and live on the beach?”

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Related posts on ATZ…

December 7, 2013: New Construction: Coney Island Area’s 1st Hotel in Decades

October 30, 2013: Photo Album: Four Transformations, One Year After Sandy

October 17, 2013: The New Coney Island: Thor Equities Vacant Lots, Dummy Arcades

February 17, 2011: New Construction: Coney Island’s 1st Private Beachfront Condos on Boardwalk

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