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Archive for the ‘Redevelopment’ Category

Public Design Commission Hearing

Public Testimony at the Public Design Commission Hearing on the Coney Island Boardwalk, March 12, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

If you’re in ATZ’s address book, chances are you received the following email from us yesterday or today. Please copy it and share it widely. You can help save the Boardwalk for future gens by signing the petition!

Dear Friends,

City Council members Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch, whose districts include the Coney Island-Brighton Beach Boardwalk, have just launched a public petition calling for the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the boardwalk a “Scenic Landmark.” Please help their efforts by signing this petition at Change.org and sharing with your friends. It could be our last chance to stop the Boardwalk from becoming the Concretewalk.

If you do not wish your name to appear publicly simply uncheck the box beneath the red “Sign” tab before you click it.

Link to petition: https://www.change.org/p/nyc-landmarks-preservation-commission-designate-historic-riegelmann-boardwalk-as-scenic-landmark

Boardwalk under construction

Children Walking on Boardwalk Under Construction, November 29, 1922. Photo by E.E. Rutter via NYC Dept of Records, Municipal Archives

“There is no question that the historic Riegelmann Boardwalk is one of the most iconic and beloved structures in our entire city and clearly merits this designation,” said Councilman Treyger. “I have already heard from dozens of New Yorkers who are shocked this isn’t already the case and wanted to share their personal stories of what the boardwalk means to them and their families. This is an important piece of New York City history and we must act now before it is drastically changed and lost forever. I am asking anyone who has ever visited the Riegelmann Boardwalk or cares about preserving our history to join our effort.”

“The Coney Island Boardwalk is a Brooklyn icon that possesses significant value, attracting visitors since 1923. In an effort to prevent any compromise of the historic design, I urge the Landmark Preservation Commission to grant landmark status to the boardwalk,” said Councilman Deutsch.

Boardwalk renovation 1934

The Boardwalk opened in 1923 and was already undergoing renovation in 1934: Group of men ripping up old planking on Coney Island boardwalk near Half Moon Hotel. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who represents New York’s 8th congressional district in Brooklyn and Queens, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also spoke in support of the designation.

“The famed Coney Island Boardwalk has been an important part of the social, cultural and economic fabric of our City for generations. The effort by Councilman Treyger to secure scenic landmark designation for the boardwalk will help preserve this Brooklyn icon for future New Yorkers to enjoy and experience, and I look forward to working with him to make it a reality,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

“The Riegelmann Boardwalk is imprinted with over 90 years of history, helping to establish Coney Island as America’s playground,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is co-sponsoring a New Year’s Eve celebration including an LED light show and fireworks, at Coney’s Parachute Jump, which he plans to make an annual tradition.

“Millions of visitors have made the pilgrimage to southern Brooklyn, and we want to see millions more enjoy its unique, iconic character in the decades to come,” said the Borough President. “I support a scenic landmark designation for the Riegelmann Boardwalk because I believe it is in the best interest of Brooklyn’s cultural and economic well-being. I look forward to working with my elected colleagues and local stakeholders to advance this proposal.”

Coney Island Boardwalk

Section of Boardwalk in amusement area under repair, Coney Island. March 13, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

During the Council members first year in office they listened to constituents complaints about the already conpleted concrete sections of the boardwalk and tried to get the City to agree to a moratorium until further environmental studies could be done. However, Daniel Zarrilli, head of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency, a holdover from the Bloomberg administration, told the City Council in June: “The use of concrete in boardwalks is not going to change at this point, is a sound decision and that stands,” according to the New York Daily News.

Coney Island Boardwalk

Section of Coney Island Concretewalk at West 36th Street near Sea Gate. June 22, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The petition will be submitted to the Mayor’s office and the LPC as part of the councilmen’s argument for designating the 2.7-mile boardwalk along the Brighton Beach and Coney Island waterfront as a Scenic Landmark. Among New York City’s official Scenic Landmarks are Central Park, Fort Tryon Park, Prospect Park, Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway.

“For nearly a century, Coney Island’s wooden boardwalk has provided the public with a rustic observation platform, a cool, soft, raised promenade that captures ocean breezes and affords a respite from New York City’s hard concrete jungle,” said Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. “Much like the unfortunate destruction of Penn Station before it could be landmarked, the ‘concrete solution’ to the Boardwalk’s maintenance problems is shortsighted and ill advised. This historic structure must be protected and preserved.”

Riegelmann Boardwalk

Riegelmann Boardwalk Sign at Stillwell Avenue, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

December 8, 2014: City Councilman’s Proposal to Landmark the Boardwalk Could Halt Concretewalk

March 22, 2012: The Coney Island-Brighton Beach Concretewalk Blues

March 9, 2012: The 10 People Who Will Decide the Fate of Coney Island Boardwalk

December 27, 2010: Photo of the Day: First Snow on Coney Island Boardwalk

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Brighton Beach

A walk in the mist, Brighton Beach. April 3, 2009. Copyright © silversalty via flickr. All Rights Reserved

For friends of the Boardwalk, “Landmark the Boardwalk!” is a new rallying cry to go along with “Boardwalk Not Sidewalk!” thanks to City Councilman Mark Treyger. The council member for Coney Island and Bensonhurt told the New York Daily News that he sent a letter to the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to propose the boardwalk be designated a scenic landmark. “Historically, it’s been a boardwalk, not a sidewalk,” said Treyger, a former high school history teacher who has proven to be a champion of the community in the Council. Getting the boardwalk on the LPC’s calender could stop the Parks Department from redoing portions of it with concrete and plastic wood, a process already underway in Sea Gate and Brighton Beach.

concrete boardwalk

Concrete section of the Coney Island boardwalk in Brighton Beach. October 26, 2011. Copyright © silversalty via flickr. All Rights Reserved

In March of 2012, a ten-foot-wide Concrete Lane for so-called “emergency vehicles” and an adjoining Plasticwalk were unanimously approved by the Public Design Commission for a pilot project in Brighton Beach. At the charade of a public hearing, public testimony was cut to 2 minutes per person and six commissioners appointed by Mayor Bloomberg got to decide the future of the Boardwalk for the people of New York. One of the public comments at the hearing was that the Boardwalk should be renamed the Public Design Commission Concretewalk because it will no longer be the Riegelmann Boardwalk. As Borough President of Brooklyn, Edward Riegelmann took charge of building the Boardwalk, which opened in 1923, making it just a few years younger than the landmark Wonder Wheel.

Coney Island Concretewalk

Coney Island Concretewalk at West 36th Street near Sea Gate. June 22, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

We’ve been very disappointed with Mayor de Blasio’s decision to carry on with Mayor Bloomberg’s Coney Island Concretewalk despite letters from newly elected local councilmen Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch asking for a moratorium until further environmental studies could be done. Last June, Daniel Zarrilli, head of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency, a holdover from the Bloomberg administration, told the City Council: “The use of concrete in boardwalks is not going to change at this point, is a sound decision and that stands,” according to the Daily News. Ironically, the news was released on the eve of the Mermaid Parade, where the mayor and his wife marched on the Boardwalk not Sidewalk with their son and daughter, who were King and Queen of the Mermaid Parade.

Send a message to Bill de Blasio urging him to support the landmarking of the Coney Island Boardwalk. Here is a link to an online form to contact the Mayor.

UPDATE December 19, 2014:

City Council members Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch, whose districts include the Coney Island-Brighton Beach Boardwalk, have just launched a public petition calling for the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the boardwalk a “Scenic Landmark.” Please help their efforts by signing this petition at Change.org and sharing it with your friends. It could be our last chance to stop the Boardwalk from becoming the Concretewalk.

If you do not wish your name to appear publicly simply uncheck the box beneath the red “Sign” tab before you click it.

Link to petition: https://www.change.org/p/nyc-landmarks-preservation-commission-designate-historic-riegelmann-boardwalk-as-scenic-landmark

Coney Island Boardwalk

Photos from Friends of the Boardwalk's website show the results of prior projects where the NYC Parks Department used concrete. Photos © Mary Ann De Luca via FOBConeyIsland.com

Related posts on ATZ…

October 2, 2013: Photo Album: Coney’s Rebuilt Steeplechase Pier Opened Today

March 22, 2012: The Coney Island-Brighton Beach Concretewalk Blues

March 9, 2012: The 10 People Who Will Decide the Fate of Coney Island Boardwalk

December 27, 2010: Photo of the Day: First Snow on Coney Island Boardwalk

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Rainbow Shops

Rainbow Shops in Thor Equities Retail Ride of a Lifetime building in Coney Island. May 3, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Last June, Rainbow Shops, a retail chain featuring discount clothing and shoes, opened on the Stillwell Avenue side of Thor Equities’ “Retail Ride of a Lifetime” Building across the street from Nathan’s Famous. At the end of October, Rainbow closed and was emptied out, but now they’re baa-ack with sun hats and flip flops galore. The Bloomberg administration’s 2009 rezoning of Coney Island’s amusement area allows accessory retail on the block where Shoot Out the Star and other games once amused in the demolished Henderson Building and where they would no longer be able to afford the rent.

Founded in 1935 and headquartered in Brooklyn, Rainbow Shops and sister brands have over 1,000 locations and join a slew of chains and franchises leasing space in the new Coney Island, including It’Sugar, Applebee’s, Johnny Rockets, Burger-Fi and Subway Cafe.

Thor Equities

Flipflops galore at Rainbow Shops in Thor Equities Retail Ride of a Lifetime building in the New Coney Island. May 3, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Meanwhile, the dummy “ARCADE” next door to Rainbow Shop remains as vacant as ever. Thor’s retail building continues to flaunt two ARCADE signs but no arcades, despite the fact that 15% of amusement frontage was required by zoning regulations to obtain the Certificate of Occupancy from the City. ATZ wrote about this sham in June 2013 and again in October 2013. We tweeted about it last week.

Apparently having an ARCADE sign is fine with the City’s Department of Planning and Department of Buildings as long as the space is not occupied by say a chain store? Aww, don’t be cynical. The Funny Face, Steeplechase Park’s ubiquitous symbol of merriment, smiles down from the marquee. As the sign atop the building says: “Thor Equities and Brooklyn Welcome You to Coney Island!”

DUMMY ARCADE

DUMMY ARCADE sign on Thor Equities Retail Building where THERE IS NO ARCADE. Stillwell Avenue, Coney Island. May 3, 204. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

March 17, 2014: Will Rides Return to Thor Equities Vacant Lots in Coney Island?

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

June 18, 2013: Thor’s Coney Island: Shoe Store Invades Amusement Area

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

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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, when a stop-work order was issued on a permit for “temporary parking for the amusement district.”

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 June 25, 2014

Fantasy Shore Amusement Park in Midland Beach opened on June 28th with four rides: Tea Cups, Train, Frog Hopper and a mini-roller coaster christened the Verrazano Viper. Fantasy Shore is run by NY Carousel Entertainment, which also operates Fantasy Forest Amusement Park at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens.

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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June 25, 2014: Amusement Rides Return to Staten Island’s Beachfront

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

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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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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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Boardwalk at Dusk

Coney Island Boardwalk at Dusk, July 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

We’re marking the year’s end with a look back at Coney Island news reported by ATZ in 2013, including wins, losses, entrances, exits and silver linings. In past years, we’ve focused on Top 10 lists, but this year’s top news included multiple posts about successful efforts to rebuild and reopen after Superstorm Sandy, as well as new construction and last goodbyes. We’ve also selected the most overlooked news story and our favorite post of 2013.

WINS
Ever since The Parachute Jump’s dazzling new 8,000 LEDs debuted in June, the landmark tower’s light show has continued nightly except for a few computer glitches. Although there’s been no official announcement from the Parks Department or Luna Park, the unofficial word on the Boardwalk is the Jump is going to be lit year-round. The Christmas lighting scheme spells “Happy Holidays!” [Update: Check the Coney Island webcam before you go.] Another bright spot in 2013 was Luna Park’s Boardwalk gate, where pinwheels and crescent moons similar to the design that graces the Surf Avenue entryway debuted in March.

Lead Horse on B&B Carousell

Lead Horse ‘Built by MC Illions’ on the B&B Carousell, Coney Island. May 24, 2013. Photo © Bruce Handy via Coney Island Photo Diary

The lead horse on the beautifully restored B&B Carousell, which reopened in May in the new Steeplechase Plaza, is a rare steed. Sumptuous detailing on its trappings includes a relief of Abe Lincoln and the Coney Island carver‘s signature “Built by MC Illions.” According to carousel historian Marianne Stevens, the horse was one of four carved in 1909 in honor of the Centennial of Lincoln’s birth and the only one remaining on a working carousel. Now if only the B&B were open year-round as it used to be, we would once again go for a spin on New Year’s Day!

SILVER LININGS

Steeplechase Pier

Coney Island’s Reconstructed Steeplechase Pier. October 2, 2013. Photo © Charles Denson, Coney Island History Project via flickr

The silver lining to Sandy was that some of the public amenities and amusement park icons ravaged by the storm were not only rebuilt but have also undergone a dramatic improvement from the way they looked before (“Photo Album: Four Transformations, One Year After Sandy,” ATZ, October 30, 2013). Steeplechase Pier, a popular spot for strolling, sunbathing, fishing and watching the fireworks, finally reopened on October 2nd after several months of reconstruction by T.B. Penick and Triton Structural.

New features include a wave-shaped communal lounger and a shade structure with letters spelling out CONEY ISLAND. LTL Architects redesign for the reconstruction of the pier won Special Recognition at the 31st Annual Awards for Excellence in Design by the New York City Design Commission.

The Coney Island Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library has also made a remarkable comeback from Sandy. Built in 1956, the library not only has new books and DVDs, the interior was beautifully redesigned to reflect the history of the neighborhood and meet the 21st century needs of the community.

Spook-A-Rama

Rebuilding Spook-A-Rama, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. February 22,2013. Photo via Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park

Spook-A-Rama, Coney Island’s oldest dark ride, which dates back to the 1950s and is part of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, was severely damaged due to flooding during Superstorm Sandy. When the park opened in March, new ghouls mingled with old inside the carefully rehabbed ride, winning high marks from ride aficionados. The eye-popping exterior artwork and restored Pretzel cars and tracks survived. Grandma’s Predictions, a rare 1920s fortunetelling machine under the Wonder Wheel, was rejuvenated by “eye surgery,” new wax hands cast from the original mold and a handcrafted cabinet based on the original design.

Grandma's Predictions

Grandma’s Predictions, newly restored 90-year-old fortunetelling machine under the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. May 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

LOSSES

During the Coney Island rezoning hearings, the Municipal Art Society said the 1964 Astrotower was eligible for the State and National Registers. This year, over the July 4th holiday, the last vestige of Astroland on the Coney Island skyline met a spectacularly sad end. Reports that the tower was swaying more than usual caused the City’s Office of Emergency Management to shut down Coney Island’s amusement parks. The top of the tower was removed, a more than 12-hour operation that enabled the surrounding rides to reopen at 3 PM on the 4th of July. Over the next two days, the rest of the tower was chopped down and hauled off to the Cropsey Avenue junkyard.

Astrotower

Local resident Rochelle Goldman, who live-tweeted the last hours of the demolition, posing with section of the Astrotower, July 5, 2013. Photo © Rochelle Goldman

In August, Jimmy McCullough, 84, whose family has operated amusements in Coney Island for four generations, passed away at his home. ATZ wrote about the McCullough family’s history in Coney when their 50-year-old kiddie park at the Bowery and 12th Street closed at the end of the 2012 season after a lease renewal with Thor Equities fell through. The lot has stood vacant ever since. Jimmy McCullough also owned and operated three historic carousels in Coney Island, including the B&B Carousell, which are now in City parks and are the family’s lasting legacy to the people of New York City.

Playland Arcade Mural

The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard at the Coney Island History Project. Photo © Charles Denson

On Valentine’s Day, the Playland Arcade building, which had been vacant for the past thirty years, was finally demolished. Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project managed to save the remaining letters on the facade– L, N and D– and several of the whimsical yet deteriorating murals, which were featured in the exhibit “The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard.”

EXITS and ENTRANCES

Mangels Shooting Gallery

1940s Mangels Shooting Gallery, Coney Island USA. August 3, 2013.Photo © Tricia Vita

Among the stores that closed forever due to damage after Sandy were Cha Cha’s of Coney Island, which had relocated to Surf Avenue in 2012 after losing their lease on the Boardwalk. Denny’s Ice Cream, the beloved ice cream shop established in 1978 was replaced by a rare 1940s Mangels Shooting Gallery on loan from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and restored and operated by Coney Island USA.

Shooting galleries enjoyed a revival this past season in post-Sandy Coney Island. At Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, a haunted parlor-themed shooting gallery with animated targets made by ScareFactory replaced the flood-damaged Scarface gallery. Shoot the Freak was reborn on the Bowery as Shoot the Clown. Luna Park brought loo-nacy to Jones Walk with Stinky Feet, a multi-target water-race game with guns that are replicas of bathtub faucets and seats that look like toilets!

Stinky Feet Water Race Game

Luna Park’s Stinky Feet Water Race Game, Jones Walk. Coney Island. May 27, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The opening of Place to Beach Bar and other CAI Food LLC eateries marked Luna Park operator Central Amusement International’s first foray into the food business in Coney Island. French food service giant Sodexo had been their partner for “On Site Service Solutions” since 2010 and their departure was something to cheer about.

In December 2012, ATZ asked “Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?” A few more chain stores have opened on Surf and Stillwell since we wrote about three national franchises– Applebee’s, Johnny Rockets and Red Mango–signing leases for the north side of Surf Avenue.

Surf and Stillwell

Thor Equities Retail Building at Surf and Stillwell, Coney Island. May 29, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

After eight years of real estate speculation and the rezoning of Coney Island, Thor Equities CEO Joe Sitt’s “Retail Ride of a Lifetime” (ugh) finally began in 2013. In February, ATZ learned from sources that candy retailer It’Sugar would be the first tenant at Thor’s new retail building at Surf and Stillwell. The glitzy candy emporium is open year-round unlike the Rainbow Shop and Brooklyn Nets Store, which were seasonal. The transformation of Surf Avenue into a mecca for chains and franchises is well underway, with Johnny Rockets and Subway Cafe currently under construction on the north side of Surf (on properties which are not owned by Thor) and slated to open in 2014.

Under Construction: Jimmy Balloons New Balloon Dart. March 13, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

While franchises and chains are expected to attract more of the same to Surf Avenue, a dwindling number of independent operators struggle to keep a foothold in the amusement area. In 2013, Jimmy Balloons built a new booth on Jones Walk under the Wonder Wheel’s neon sign. The lease on his longtime location on the Bowery was held by Manny Cohen of Coney Island Arcade, who was evicted after 22 years and moved his business to Vegas taking Target the Coney Island Cat with him.

Manny Cohen and Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat

Manny Cohen and Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat. April 18, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

We’re thankful to all the blogs and dailies who have linked to ATZ over the past year. But there’s one story that we wish had gotten picked up by other media outlets. ATZ’s vote for our most under-appreciated or overlooked Coney Island news story of 2013 goes to our posts about Thor Equities dummy arcades. All season long, flashy signs for an ARCADE fronting empty space with “Retail Space Available” signs have made a mockery of the City’s 2009 rezoning requiring a percentage of amusements on the property. (“The New Coney Island: Thor Equities Vacant Lots, Dummy Arcades,” ATZ, October 17, 2013); “Thor’s Coney Island: Retail Ride of a Lifetime’s Phantom Arcade,” ATZ, June 12, 2013).

Thor Equities

Thor Equities Retail Building with Tenants It’Sugar and Rainbow Shops and Dummy Arcade Sign Where No Arcade Exists. September 29, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The fact that Thor CEO Joe Sitt can’t be bothered to install the minimum amusements required by the new zoning — a couple of tiny arcades – in his first new construction in Coney Island does not bode well for the future of any type of amusement on his long-vacant property, from which he has previously evicted all amusement operators. Will Sitt try to win a zoning variance to get rid of the amusement requirement from the City’s Board of Standards and Appeals in the next administration?

Finally, our fave post of 2013 – ta da da da!– is “Sea Rabbits Swim Ashore in Coney Island, Up For Adoption,” posted on April 1st. It is quite possibly yours too, since this post is among ATZ’s Top 5 posts of 2013. Greetings and Happy New Year from Coney Island!

sea Rabbits

Sea Rabbits. Photo © Dr. Takeshi Yamada at the Coney Island Sea Rabbit Repopulation Center

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