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Posts Tagged ‘Joe Sitt’

Thor's Coney Island

Thor’s Coney Island: Former site of McCullough’s Kiddie Park viewed from Bowery, with Scream Zone on City-owned property in background. July 20, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

With just 75 days left in Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, we’ve been taking stock of the new Coney Island, which began to take shape after the July 2009 rezoning and during the Mayor’s third term. Most of the City-owned land in the amusement area has been re-activated with amusements, starting with Luna Park (2010) and Scream Zone (2011) built by Central Amusement International on the vacant lots bought from Thor Equities for $95.6 million, and continuing with the installation of the B&B Carousell and relighting of the Parachute Jump in the new Steeplechase Plaza this year.

The same can’t be said for adjacent property held onto by Thor CEO Joe Sitt. It became vacant after Thor acquired the land and evicted ride and park operators and remains vacant despite a history of various amusement operators efforts to negotiate lease deals. The latest project that never happened was Big Mark’s Action Park, which planned to bring a rock climbing wall, a vertical wind tunnel and other extreme attractions to Thor’s Stillwell lots in 2013. It’s a similar story as ATZ’s previous post “The New Coney Island: A Tale of Two Jones Walks” contrasting the activated City-owned and vacant Thor-owned sides of the Walk.

Bumble Bee Ride

Closed Forever in September 2012: Bumble Bees and Herschell Carousel at McCullough’s Kiddie Park, Coney Island, September 3, 2012. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

This week last year, ATZ was saying goodbye to McCullough’s Kiddie Park, which had been on Coney Island’s Bowery for more than 50 years. The McCullough family, descendants of Steeplechase Park founder George C Tilyou, were dismantling the Bumblebees and other rides and leaving Coney forever after failing to come to a lease agreement with property owner Thor Equities. Since then, the lot has remained vacant, just another one of Joe Sitt’s collection of interminably vacant lots in Coney Island.

What Michael Daly wrote in the Daily News in 2009 after the City bought Sitt’s Boardwalk property is still true today: “Sitt is the city’s most successful un-developer. He spoke grandly of building a billion-dollar Las Vegas-style resort. What he has built is a string of vacant lots, the most depressing being where Astroland amusement park stood until a year ago.” Just substitute McCullough’s for Astroland.

Thor's Coney Island

Thor’s Coney Island: West 12th Street looking west. May 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The sole building that Joe Sitt has built in Coney after years of real estate speculation is a temporary building at Surf and Stillwell with retail stores like It’Sugar and a Brooklyn Nets Shop but devoid of amusements. You’ve heard the phrase “dummy corporation” but did you know Thor Equities has introduced a new concept to Coney Island of dummy arcades? All season long, dummy arcade signs 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 rest of Thor’s Coney properties and lots remain vacant today. Unlike 2007, when Sitt first evicted Batting Cage and Go Kart City as well as the Zipper ride, which is the subject of a riveting documentary, Coney Island’s vacant lots are no longer in the news. In 2008 and 2009, when the City was pushing the rezoning, Coney’s infamous vacant lots were mentioned by City officials as a reason for the rezoning. “THE END OF CONEY ISLAND IN 2009?,” said a “fact sheet” called “Coney Island Throughout The Ages” from the Coney Island Development Corporation. “Today, Coney Island is a ghost of its former self. Under the current zoning, amusement operators have divested, leaving illegal uses and vacant lots throughout the area.” Four years after the rezoning, the lots are still vacant with no end in sight.

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

Photographs of newly created vacant lots like the ones in this post are rarely seen and illustrate the dark side of Bloomberg’s New Coney Island. Most people are happily snapping pictures of the new roller coasters and the crowds on the Boardwalk, which is as it should be. In fact, we’ve held off till the tail end of the season to post these depressing photos to avoid creating any bad publicity for Coney.

On the other hand, our photos of vacant lots are free advertising for Thor Equities, whose new website “Thor Equities Presents Coney Island” revives their “Retail Ride of a Lifetime” slogan: “Thor Equities presents a new retail opportunity at a scale New York hasn’t seen in years! ThorConeyIsland.com is a retailers ticket to joining the retail ride of a lifetime taking place in Coney Island.” The site touts such stats as “18 million people visit the beach every season” and “4.7 million subway riders visit Coney Island every year” to lure retailers. The leasing plan pitches Thor’s buildings including the Grashorn, Coney Island’s oldest building, which has been vacant since 2008, but not the long-vacant lots.

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 Streets that formerly had amusements. July 7, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

While the subject of Coney Island’s vacant lots has dropped from the headlines, the question looms: What is the future of Thor Equities vacant lots and buildings in the next administration? Some of the property was rezoned to accommodate 30-story hotels and retail in the heart of the amusement area but still requires an amusement component. Putting up glittery arcade signs where there are no arcades is a slap in the face of the zoning requirement. Will the City enforce its own zoning? Will Sitt try to get a variance? Will he continue to “sit” on the land and wait for infrastructure improvements? Will he flip the property?

The Bumper Boats were on the Bowery at Stillwell until Joe Sitt evicted them in 2007. Photo by the hanner via flickr

The Bumper Boats and other amusements thrived at this location on Stillwell Ave until evicted by Thor Equities in 2007. May 29, 2005. Photo © the hanner via flickr

Will this land ever see amusements again? On Stillwell Avenue, where the Tornado Roller coaster (1927-1977), the Bobsled (1941-1974), and Stauch’s Baths and Dance Hall (1930-1998) once stood, Norman Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City amused the zillions until Joe Sitt emptied out the amusements in 2007. Last year, NY1 reported Sitt’s plans to put a movie theater with stadium seating on his Stillwell lot behind Nathan’s was being held up by the fact that the theater required an amusement element to it. Rumor had it the city wanted him to put a ride on the roof. How cool would that be? As long as Sitt can’t be bothered to install the minimum amusements required by the new zoning in his first building in Coney Island — a couple of tiny arcades– don’t hold your breath.

Thor's Coney Island

Thor’s Coney Island: West 12th Street and Surf Avenue. Concession Stands and Bank of Coney Island Building Demolished in 2010. The 2009 Rezoning Allows 30 Story Hotels to be Built Here and Other Thor-owned Parcels. August 25, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Related posts on ATZ…

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?

October 7, 2012: ATZ’s Big Wish List for the New Coney Island

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

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Burlington Arcade

Burlington Arcade by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, 1827-28

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’.

Yours sincerely,

Daniel Bexfield


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.

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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

April 29, 2010: Photo of the Day: Interior of Coney Island’s Doomed Henderson Music Hall

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

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rides

Ride being dismantled and moved in McCullough's Kiddie Park, Coney Island. June 13, 2011. Photo © Eric Kowalsky

Coney Island had 64 rides when we did our annual ride census in April, but starting this week it will have 62. McCullough’s Kiddie Park, whose colorful banners trumpeting “More Rides” had a dozen rides, is losing two. The kiddie park owner is getting squeezed out by Thor Equities. A section of their park occupied by three rides–the Frog Hopper, kiddie train and boats– is a lot owned by Thor and was subleased to them a few years ago by Norman Kaufman.

Now that the sublease has expired, Thor Equities reportedly offered a new lease with such onerous terms that the park’s owners will not sign it. The three rides have to be off Thor’s property by Thursday, June 16th. On Monday, the little park’s train ride was sent packing. The kiddie boat ride also went bye bye. Meanwhile, the majority of the other rides had to be dismantled and rearranged to accommodate the Frog Hopper, which is staying. McCullough’s Kiddie Park, located at West 12th and the Bowery in Coney Island, will reopen this weekend with 10 rides.

kiddie ride

Ride being dismantled in McCullough's Kiddie Park, Coney Island. June 13, 2011. Photo © Eric Kowalsky

The McCullough family is related to Steeplechase Park’s Tilyous and has owned and operated rides in Coney Island for many years and we hope many years to come. In 2005, Jimmy McCullough sold the B & B Carousell, the last wooden carousel in Coney Island, to the City after the death of his business partner Mike Salzstein. You can listen to Jimmy McCullough’s interview about learning the carousel business from his father, James McCullough, who began his career working on the Steeplechase and Stubbman carousels, in the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive.

Joe Sitt, CEO of Thor, on the other hand, has zero rides on his Coney Island property. What he does have is a dismal flea market disguised as a festival because flea markets are not allowed by the zoning. Despite what you may have read in a NY Times puff piece on Sitt, the flea does not feature “upscale product.” What’ll he do with the tiny lot reclaimed from the kiddie park, put in a few more flea market tables?

Joe Sitt is infamous for evicting amusement rides from his Coney Island properties. In 2007, the real estate speculator evicted the Zipper from 12th Street. He also evicted Norman Kaufman’s Go Karts, Bumper Boats and Batting Cages from Stillwell Avenue to “allow the new development to proceed in a timely manner,” but has built NOTHING there except a failed flea market in 2009 and another flea market this summer. (“Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt,” ATZ, March 3, 2010)

It’s bad enough that the City has let Joe Sitt continue to get away with blighting the amusement area. Why do the New York Times and other mainstream media continue to enable Sitt’s bad behavior with clueless coverage referring to him as a developer? Read the graffiti scrawled on his so-called construction fence: It says “Blight for Spite.”

Kiddie Park

McCullough's Kiddie Park, Bowery and W 12th St, Coney Island. May 15, 2009. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ...

December 24, 2012: In Thor’s Coney Island, Discount on Retail Ride of a Lifetime

October 17, 2012: 50-Year-Old Coney Island Kiddie Park Begins Dismantling Rides

May 4, 2011: Thor Equities Touts Coney Island as “RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME”

April 22, 2011: Coney Island Has 64 Rides and 30 Weekends of Summer!

June 8, 2009: Coney Island Rides: Tug Boat and Carousel in McCullough’s Kiddie Park

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