If you’ve been wondering what Joe Sitt of Thor Equities is doing with his vacant buildings and empty lots in Coney Island 2010, the answer is nothing yet. It’s disgraceful that Coney Island’s no. 1 real estate speculator is getting away with letting his tents from last year’s flopped Flea by the Sea deteriorate and become a public eyesore. The bedraggled tents are the first sight visitors see when they stroll down Stillwell Avenue, the gateway to Coney Island’s Beach and Boardwalk. How would “Joey Coney Island” like it if this mess was in his backyard instead of the People’s Playground? Tear ‘em down!
Coney Island’s 40 rides and diverse attractions opened for the season on Palm Sunday and enjoyed the best Easter in decades. On the City-owned former Astroland site, Zamperla/CAI is working nearly around the clock to finish the new Luna Park in time for Memorial Day Weekend. If Sitt had sold the land to the City when the rezoning was passed in July, the park would probably be open now! With the return of Ringling Brothers Circus and the grand opening of Luna Park, Coney Island’s stakeholders are busy planning an exciting summer season. But Joe Sitt has yet to announce any tenants or plans for his Coney Island buildings or remaining Stillwell parcels.
Thor Equities huge “Store for Lease” banners on the Henderson Building and Shore Hotel continue to greet visitors when they exit Stillwell station. As for Thor’s vacant buildings, the Grashorn—Coney Island’s oldest building—and the former Bank of Coney Island—it’s deathwatch time. The Coney Island Rumor Mill is saying a demolition company was asked to give a quote for the takedown of the Grashorn and the Bank of Coney Island immediately as well as the Henderson Building and Shore Hotel by October. Popeye’s $120K per year lease of the corner store on the ground floor is said to be up this year.
Last July, the Bank of Coney and the Henderson parcels were rezoned for high-rise hotels of up to 27 stories. Though it’s unlikely a hotel will go up anytime soon, the speculation is that Sitt wants to get rid of the Grashorn and Henderson, which were nominated by Coney Island USA for landmark status, before the LPC calendars them or Save Coney Island’s plan for a historic district gathers steam.
Since Zamperla/CAI won the 10 year contract to build a new amusement park on the City owned land purchased from Sitt, a who’s who of amusement operators has enquired about leasing Sitt’s remaining parcels. But showmen are not marks. Sitt’s steep asking price—reportedly $300K-$500K– for each of his two 50,000 square foot Stillwell lots–has driven away top carnivals and amusement park operators who negotiated for yet failed to sign multi-year leases. Sources tell ATZ that onerous lease terms such as a 30-day vacate clause and having to pay all of the rent up front helped kill the deals.
Sideshow operator John Strong, who negotiated with Thor to bring his freak museum to the Grashorn Building, now says all deals are off since he can’t spend more in rent than he can take in at the ticket box. Strong believes he got outbid by a Russian who owns an arcade. But the supposed tenant, Sam’s Arcade from last year’s Dreamland, hasn’t signed the lease for Coney Island’s oldest building. What is Sitt’s game?
The Wall Street Journal recently had an article called “Empty Storefronts Blot Union Square Area”–San Francisco, not New York–with a quote from Joe Sitt, who is one of the property owners: “Mr. Sitt says he isn’t rushing to lock up a long-term lease before the market recovers. ‘I’m very willing to be patient,’ he says. While an empty storefront might not help in the short run, securing better tenants is a long-term boon for the neighborhood.” Ironically, another quote in the piece is “It’s like a major theme park losing its rides,” says Joe D’Alessandro, chief executive of the city’s Convention & Visitors Bureau, of Union Square’s store closings.
Funny thing is the quote could apply equally to the situation in Coney Island, though Sitt hasn’t had much to say about Coney since he sold 7 acres to the City in November 2009. At the time, Sitt told the Real Deal in a Q & A…
“We have to redo all of our plans, but we will still have millions and millions of square feet of apartments and hotels and retail and restaurants and enclosed amusements. Yes, it will still have the Las Vegas component to it. The latter versions of the renderings are close to what it will be.”
Oh, yeah, he forgot to mention the millions and millions of dollars he’ll make when he flippity-flips it.
In the meantime, a parade of people eager to do business in Coney Island continues to look at Thor’s Stillwell parcels. Last week, yet another amusement operator interested in a three-year lease for a go-kart track arrived on the scene. Rumor has it they’re set to sign a lease tomorrow. We’ll see. Our skeptical friends say that Sitt’s lots will remain empty this summer. We say it’s 37 days till Memorial Day Weekend and Sitt never had carnival rides up and running in “Dreamland” until then. In fact, bizarre rumors of Thor Equities producing entertainment in a Spiegeltent on one parcel and bringing their very own carnival to the other are circulating, too. What else can we say but this isn’t just any run-of-the-mill rumor mill, it’s in Coney Island, which thrives on the strange, the odd and the unpredictable.
Related posts on ATZ…
February 10, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Amusement Operators Balk, Money Talks at Stillwell