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Archive for the ‘Redevelopment’ Category

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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Promenading at Midland Beach

Vintage Postcard: Promenading at Midland Beach, Staten Island. Collection Milstein Division, New York Public Library

Staten Island’s east shore, once home to amusement parks with roller coasters, Ferris wheels and carousels, could be awhirl with seasonal rides again as early as this summer. A Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for the Staten Island Beachfronts by the City mentions amusement rides at Midland Beach as well as carnivals, rides and stall-based amusements among over 30 suggested uses at 8 different sites. Respondents are encouraged to submit proposals for these ideas as well as others that they believe are suitable but not mentioned in the RFEI.

Big Mark’s Action Park and NY Carousel Entertainment LLC were among the amusement park operators eyeing the property in recent site visits held by the City’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Parks Department. Proposals are due on Tuesday and some of the ideas are expected to be activated in summer 2014.

Midland Beach Site Opportunity Diagram

Carousel and Kiddie Rides in Midland Beach Opportunity Site Diagram, Staten Island Beachfronts RFEI, December 13, 2013. NYCEDC

Six concrete pads for future amusement rides with electrical utilities already installed are mentioned in the Midland Beach Site Opportunity section of the RFEI. The diagram above shows the pads occupied by a carousel, magic castle, sky glider, mini airport and spinning teacups circled by a trackless train, though these are just examples. There’s also a pad for a concession building with attached public restrooms, which are under construction.

Staten Island site visit attendee Mark Zientek of Big Mark’s Action Park says, “We put together some ideas we’re really excited about. We think the beachfronts offer a lot of promise.” Zientek is the owner of a long-established amusement rental and special events production company whose clients include AT&T, HBO, and Turner Construction. He’s also chairman of ROAR (Responsible Operators of Amusement Rentals) and a NAARSO (National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials) certified maintenance technician. Big Mark’s proposal is a two-phase plan, with an initial emphasis on participatory attractions for children like Little Mark’s climbing wall and slide, and a mechanically operated ride that lets the riders control the speed of the spin. A zip line and other action-oriented attractions are part of phase two.

Great Roller Boller Coaster

Vintage Postcard: Great Roller Boller Coaster Amusement Co., South Beach, Staten Island. Collection Milstein Division, New York Public Library

Also attending the site visit were David Galst and Ami Abramson of NY Carousel Entertainment LLC, which operates two historic Queens carousels for the Parks Department in Flushing Meadows and Forest Park. Last year, the company added a mini-amusement park at Flushing Meadows including Queens’ one and only roller coaster, a family ride called the Corona Cobra. Could a coaster for Staten Island be next? Galst and Abramson are also managing directors with Ride Entertainment Group, which not only operates carousels but also installs coasters and other high thrill rides. Past projects include the 110-foot-high SkyCoaster at Luna Park’s Scream Zone in Coney Island and Gerstlauer’s new FireChaser Express at Dollywood, the first dual-launch family coaster in the U.S.

One of the questions from a respondent in the RFEI’s Q & A about zoning restrictions as to height partly answers whether a SkyCoaster or similarly tall ride would fly on Staten Island’s beachfront. The answer: “NYC Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) structures are not subject to zoning restrictions. Structure heights are subject to the NYC Parks Commissioner’s discretion. The construction of new structures will not be permitted at the Miller Field Opportunity Site.” NY Carousel Entertainment did not reply to ATZ’s request for comment on their proposal for the Staten Island beachfront.

The Whip at Midland Beach

Vintage Postcard: Everybody Rides the The Whip at Midland Beach, Staten Island. Collection Milstein Division, New York Public Library

According to the NYCEDC, the primary purpose of the RFEI is to generate ideas to enhance and re-invigorate Staten Island’s public beachfronts and open spaces after Superstorm Sandy. Proposals may consider one or more of eight locations, for temporary, seasonal, and/or permanent activations for early summer 2014 as well as long-term projects. In addition to small-scale amusements, suggested project concepts include food trucks, vending machines, beer gardens, cafes, skate parks, surf schools, skating rinks, mini golf, driving ranges, batting cages, recreational and beach equipment rental, educational programming, public art activations, festivals, performances and markets.

South Beach was once home to Happyland Amusement Park (1906-1935) and other independently owned amusements. In 1955, a project to extend the Boardwalk and provide parking and playing fields led to New York City’s condemnation of properties where rides, eateries and other amusements had been for decades. Beachland Amusements (1941-2006) survived by moving inland. Midland Beach, just south of South Beach, had hotels, beer gardens, bathing pavilions, theaters, carousels, Ferris wheels and amusements. Vintage postcards in the New York Public Library show a variety of entertainments, including trapeze performances on the boardwalk and a boxing exhibition by the world-famous Rossow Midgets.

UPDATE March 17, 2014

The Parks Department has issued an RFP (Request for Proposals) for the development and operation of a Children’s Amusement Park as well as the operation of mobile food units and souvenir carts in Midland Beach, with a 12-year term. A site tour is set for March 28, with a due date for proposals of April 16th.

The Rossow Midgets

The Rossow Midgets, Midland Beach, Staten Island, NY. Collection Milstein Division, New York Public Library

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Related posts on ATZ…

April 24, 2013: Photo Album: Coney Island April 2013 Construction Update

September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

February 1, 2011: Bring Back the Whip! A Birthday Gift for William F Mangels

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

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Frozen custard

Frozen custard from Rita’s Italian Ice. Photo via Facebook.com/RitasItalianIceCompany

The year is only three days old and already another new franchise is set to come to Coney Island in 2014. Rita’s Italian Ice, a company whose tag line is “Ice, Custard and Happiness” will open a store on Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Broker Joe Vitacco tells ATZ he signed a lease with a Rita’s franchise owner for the 1,500 square foot space at 1329 Surf Avenue, on the corner of Surf and West 15th Street. The store is located across the street from Nathan’s and Williams Candy and is expected to be open seasonally, probably from March through October. The current tenant, a social club, will move next door.

Rita’s menu offers Italian ice, frozen custard, layered gelati, sundaes with a choice of 20 toppings, sugar-free treats, and trademark items that blend Italian ice with frozen custard.

Frozen custard is of course one of the lost delights of Coney Island. The dessert made its debut in 1919 when the Kohr brothers opened a stand on the Coney Island Boardwalk. The nickel treat was a sensation, selling 18,460 cones on the first weekend!

sundae with toppings

Frozen custard sundae with toppings from Rita’s Italian Ice. Photo via Facebook.com/RitasItalianIceCompany

Kohr’s Frozen Custard is still in business on the Boardwalks at Seaside Heights and Casino Pier on the Jersey Shore but Kohr’s has shown no interest in making a Coney Island comeback. Businesses in Coney Island which sell ice cream, gelato and soft serve haven’t made any move to bring back frozen custard either, despite the recommendations of old-timers. It’s ironic that thanks to a popular international chain headquartered in Trevose, Pennyslvania, we can look forward to the return of this treat to its place of origin and the celebration of National Frozen Custard Day on August 8th.

Rita’s has over 600 outlets in 21 states and is the latest of a growing number of national and international franchises and chains leasing space on high-priced Surf Avenue in 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 and Subway Cafe, which are currently under construction, will 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.

According to the franchise’s website, Rita’s is the world’s largest Italian ice concept and opened its first international outlet in October in Shenzhen, China. The franchisor for Southern China plans to open 31 outlets over 10 years.

Rita's Italian Ice

Rita’s Italian Ice, Yonkers, NY Store. Via Facebook.com/RitasItalianIceCompany

In the New York metro area, Rita’s year-round locations are on Broadway at 92nd Street in Manhattan –the only store in New York City–and several locations in New Jersey, including Hoboken, and the Izod Center and MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. The majority of stores in New York and neighboring states such as New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennyslvania are open seasonally from March through October. Investment firm Falconhead Capital LLC owns a controlling interest in Rita’s, which was founded in 1984 as a Mom-and-Pop product sold from a porch window in Philadelphia.

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Related posts on ATZ…

December 31, 2013: Amusing the Zillion’s Coney Island 2013 Year in Review

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

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

January 28, 2012: Lost Delights of Coney Island: Frozen Custard

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