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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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The BK Festival featuring displaced Aqueduct flea market vendors opened for the first time on Saturday in Coney Island. The new flea market is located on Thor Equities Stillwell property adjacent to Scream Zone and Nathan’s, site of Thor’s Flea by the Sea in 2009. Check out our flickr slide show. We took pix of everything that was there, to be fair and square. Unfortunately the opening day event was dismal. It was not in any way “like a state fair,” as hyped by the BK Festival management in advertisements, nor did it feature “upscale product,” as hyped by the New York Times in a puff piece on Joe Sitt. Not surprised. Just sayin’.

Like Thor’s “Festival by the Sea,” the new flea market bills itself as a festival because a flea market is not a permitted use on this property in Coney Island. In response to ATZ’s query last month about the zoning, Purnima Kapur, Brooklyn City Planning Director, wrote in an email: “The C7 zoning district in Coney Island does not permit Flea Markets as a permitted use; however small scale retail and restaurants are permitted in addition to amusements.” There are Use Groups A, B and C, with A being for Amusements, and a formula for their allocation.

flea market

The BK Festival brings Aqueduct Flea Vendors in Coney Island. May 14, 2011. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

As we’ve said before, it’s a little tricky to figure out how “OVER 100,000 SQUARE FEET OF SHOPPERS DELIGHT!” is permitted when Sitt failed to win 10,000 square foot retail and the City’s own zoning says “Use Group C [Retail] uses shall be limited to 2,500 square feet of floor area and 30 feet of street frontage, except that on corner lots one street frontage may extend up to 100 feet.” Of course the city has long failed to enforce its own zoning. The furniture stores on the north side of Surf have continued to exist for years in defiance of the amusement zoning. The only example of a flea market in Coney Island being closed that we’re aware of is when Mayor Giuliani shut down the flea on the north side of Surf prior to the opening of his new ballpark in 2000.

Cooking spices, cleaning products, car mats, and tools looked incongruous in the amusement area. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Saturday’s rainy forecast kept some of the Aqueduct vendors away, yet the locations were said to be completely booked for the season. Assigned numbers were painted on the blacktop. It was depressing to see miscellaneous items arrayed in rows of cardboard boxes–tape measures, sharpies, notebooks, cleaning brushes, sandals, toys, balls, what have you. It was a typical market, with signs advertising prices starting at $1. Or 3 for $5.

Booths selling household cleaning products, personal care products, tools, automotive accessories and cooking spices looked incongruous in the amusement area. It felt jarring to see the new Soarin’ Eagle roller coaster against a backdrop of signage advertising “Dresses For Less.” There were just a few vendors with what might be called “upscale product” displayed to advantage–snazzy belt buckles, some lovely clothing near the front of the flea market, and a booth with strollers, skateboards and kids toys. We found one item that we liked and purchased it for $10.

flea market

One of the best looking booths featured strollers, skateboards & kidz toys. May 14, 2011. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

The majority of space is taken up by flea market vendors, so it’s reasonable to say this event is indeed a flea market and not “like a state fair.’ The amusements consisted of a pony ride, a very small petting zoo, one inflatable bounce for kids (a second one was deflated), and two mimes. The Coney Island Dancers, who had brought in their sound system and were playing music, said they had been hired by the BK Festival. A few people were dancing on the sidewalk.

petting zoo

BK Festival's amusements include a small petting zoo and a pony ride. May 14, 2011. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

According to the Coney Island Rumor Mill, the BK Festival’s contract with Thor precludes them from bringing in mechanical amusement rides. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, considering that Sitt first evicted Norman Kaufman’s amusements from the property in 2006 and has failed to lease to several different carnivals and amusement operators who have tried to negotiate deals. As we wrote in Thor Equities Touts Coney Island as “RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME” (ATZ, May 4), we believe that the flea market or “shopping experience” is part of a strategy to win a variance for 10,000 square foot retail from the City’s Board of Standards and Appeals in a future administration. Having rides wouldn’t help that plan at all.

Why does the City allow Thor Equities to put flea markets that are festivals in name only on precious pieces of property in the C-7 amusement zone where the Tornado and Bobsled Coasters once thrilled? And not just once, but twice. It calls to mind the adage “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me.”

flea market

BK Festival on the west side of Stillwell. May 14, 2011. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

March 5, 2012: Exclusive: Goodbye Flea Market, Hello “Steeplechase Park”

April 5, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Joe Sitt Scores Puff Piece in NY Times

March 29, 2011: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Close to Deal in Coney Island

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

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New Signage

Thor Equities New Signage at Corner of Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island. April 30, 2011. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via Amusing the Zillion

On Friday, Thor Equities put up new signage atop the blue construction fence at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, the gateway to Coney Island’s beach and Boardwalk: “CONEY ISLAND – The RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME – for leasing contact…”

Ain’t it just like Joe Sitt to tout retail when Coney Island, the birthplace of the amusement industry, is expecting its best season yet because of the success of Luna Park on land purchased by the City from Thor? The new slogan is a slap in the face to Zamperla’s Scream Zone, which has four real rides of a lifetime just down the block, including the eye-popping Sling Shot and Coney Island’s first new major roller coasters in nearly 40 years.

New rides –and not retail–on Stillwell are cause for celebration because this is where the now legendary Tornado (1927-1977) and Bobsled (1941-1974) Roller Coasters once thrilled and where Norman Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City amused the zillion until Joe Sitt bought the property in 2006 and emptied out the amusements.

Thor Equities New Signs Atop Street Artists Mural at Corner of Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island. April 30, 2011. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via Amusing the Zillion

Surf and Stillwell is also the gateway to Joe Sitt’s successor to 2009’s failed Flea by the Sea. This year’s BK Festival, originally billed as “NYC Largest Flea Market with a Festival Style [sic]” has dropped the phrase flea market from its marketing material. Set to open this month next weekend, the festival is now being advertised as “like a state fair for the whole family with attractions to include inflatable world, concerts, shopping experience, pony rides and petting zoos, and much much more.” And with good reason, a flea market is illegal in Coney’s amusement zone, though in the past the City has failed to enforce its own zoning.

In response to ATZ’s query about the zoning, Purnima Kapur, Brooklyn City Planning Director, wrote in an email: “The C7 zoning district in Coney Island does not permit Flea Markets as a permitted use; however small scale retail and restaurants are permitted in addition to amusements.”

According to the zoning documents, retail uses are complementary to amusement uses and beach activities, and these uses are limited in size and frontage.

plan

Coney Island Illustrative Development Plan, Department of City Planning

We’re not convinced small scale retail is the Coney Island ride of a lifetime that Joe Sitt has in mind. At his Flea by the Sea in 2009, stands selling clothing and shoes were a reminder that Thor’s pitch book unsuccessfully used to lobby BP Markowitz for 10,000 square foot retail touted flagship retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap/Banana Republic, and DSW (“Thousands of shoes…prices you love”).

We believed then as we believe now that the flea market or “shopping experience” is part of a strategy to win a variance for 10,000 square foot retail from the City’s Board of Standards and Appeals in a future administration. In Coney Island, Joe Sitt is just as infamous for “sitting” on property as he is for flipping it.

Thor’s empty lot at Surf and Stillwell is the site of the former Henderson Music Hall, one of three historic buildings which Thor CEO Joe Sitt ordered to be demolished last year. The Henderson site was rezoned for a high-rise hotel in July 2009.

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February 13, 2012: Thor’s Coney Island: Candy Retailer It’Sugar to Open Surf Ave Store

April 5, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Joe Sitt Scores Puff Piece in NY Times

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

February 10, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Amusement Operators Balk, Money Talks at Stillwell

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DNALSI YENOC is CONEY ISLAND spelled backwards. The letters frame the view as visitors exit Stillwell Terminal onto Surf Avenue. “After seeing two of my flickr contacts take amazing shots of this within a week, and having taken a photo of it myself, a flickr group was inevitable,” writes photographer Barry Yanowitz, who started the group almost a year ago. Contributors include Coney Island photographers Bruce Handy, Amy Dreher, Lindsay Wengler, agent j loves agent a, and me-myself-i.

In recent months, the favorite view of this flickr group has changed irrevocably due to Thor Equities demolition of the century-old Henderson Building and the Shore Hotel. As I commented on Lindsay Wengler’s latest photo in the pool: The emptiness where Henderson used to be is hard to look at, but I also dread whatever Thor will put there next.

Untitled from DNALSI YENOC Group on flickr. March 26, 2011. Photo © Lindsay Wengler/SingleLindsReflex

Buried in today’s NY1 interview with Joe Sitt about the Aqueduct flea market that he’s bringing to his lots on Stillwell Avenue was one sentence about his newest empty lot: “This week he will give the site a new start, laying in foundation for a one-story building to use as an indoor amusement and retail space next summer.” Next summer? What about now? No reason was given for the long delay in construction.

As we wrote last week in “Thor’s Coney Island: Building Plans ‘Disapproved’ by DOB” (March 31, 2011), Sitt has yet to break ground because the DOB “DISAPPROVED” the building plans as many as 16 times over the past six months. Sitt also says in the interview that his dream is to build a hotel, but it will take seven years to put in the electricity and the utilities and the infrastructure that’s needed. Sounds like another excuse by the real estate speculator to keep the lot empty. Zamperla managed to build the new Luna Park in just 100 days.

Enjoy the view, both present and past. Here is one of my favorites by photographer Amy Dreher. The Fascination sign, which greeted visitors year round for over 50 years went dark and will never be seen again, except in photos and videos.

Coney Island Snow from DNALSI YENOC flickr group. January 10, 2009. Photo © Amy Dreher/luluinnyc via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

April 5, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Joe Sitt Scores Puff Piece in NY Times

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

February 23, 2011: Double Exposure: Photographer Barry Yanowitz & Coney Island on BCAT TV

September 12, 2010: Video: Coney Island’s Faber’s Fascination by Charles Denson

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Thor Equities Festival by the Sea on Opening Day. May 22,2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Like it or not, and some Coney Island businesses don’t like it at all, “NYC LARGEST FLEA MARKET WITH A FESTIVAL STYLE! [sic]” is on the verge of getting permits to open Aqueduct’s answer to Thor’s flopped Flea by the Sea in Coney. ATZ learned that Will McCarthy, the event organizer of the “BK Festival,” who already applied for a Temporary Place of Assembly Permit from the DOB, will meet with City officials on Thursday in hopes of speeding along necessary approvals from the FDNY and DEP. Sources say a meeting with the Brooklyn Borough President to discuss the festival’s plans is also on this week’s schedule.

We were about to post this news when an article by Liz Robbins in today’s NY Times caught our eye: “With Its Move to Coney Island, Flea Market Is Sprucing Up.” The news that the festival management is set to sign a lease with Joe Sitt and is adding “some lace and frills to dress up” the flea concept is no surprise. What’s surprising is that the NY Times has done a puff piece on Joe Sitt’s adventures in Coney Island.

The Bumper Boats and other amusements thrived on this very location until Joe Sitt evicted them in 2007 to create his empty lots. Hooray for redevelopment!  Photo by the hanner via flickr

The Bumper Boats and other amusements thrived on this very location until Joe Sitt evicted them in 2007 to create his empty lots. Hooray for redevelopment! May 29, 2005. Photo © the hanner via flickr

“It’s a little nostalgic — I started my businesses as a flea market operator at the Aqueduct,” says Sitt. The reporter glosses over the fact that Sitt evicted amusements from this Coney Island property: “[Sitt] has razed some older buildings, angering some in the community, but the festival space on Stillwell was already vacant.” Actually this property is in a C-7 amusement zone where an amusement park with batting cages, go karts, bumper boats and mini golf thrived until Joe Sitt bought the land in 2006. He evicted the amusement operators to “allow the new development to proceed in a timely manner,” but has built NOTHING there except a failed flea market in 2009. (“Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt,” ATZ, March 3, 2010)

As for the Flea, the reporter takes Sitt’s word for it that his Flea by the Sea model was successful. “Two years ago, when the Aqueduct gaming project seemed imminent, [Sitt] recruited vendors, from pickle makers to bakers, alongside entertainers for a monthlong stint in Coney Island. The results convinced him the model would work.” What entertainers? The only entertainers that we observed were local bands onstage and a clown making balloon animals for kids. In fact the flea was widely considered a flop. For starters, look at our flickr set or comments from the disillusioned baker in Lifestyler Magazine.

Thor Equities idea of entertainment at the flea market was a band playing two sets.  Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Thor Equities idea of entertainment at the flea market was a band playing two sets. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Now back to our regularly scheduled post. The proposed locations for the flea’s “OVER 100,000 SQUARE FEET OF SHOPPERS DELIGHT!” are Thor Equities lots on both sides of Stillwell, where the disused tent frames from the 2009 flea remain. Thor’s lot on West 15th Street would also be activated. Although Coney Island’s C-7 amusement zoning (more on that later) does not specifically allow flea market use, it does allow temporary use for a fair. Thor’s Festival by the Sea aka Flea by the Sea in 2009 had such a permit.

The BK Festival website was taken offline last week after all the media hoopla about the flea market. It promised “All Day Entertainment, International Food Court and Kidz Zone, Pony Ride, and Rides.” ATZ left a voice mail message for the management asking for more info about the rides. We haven’t heard back yet.

UPDATE…10:20 am. We received an email from Will McCarthy, Event Director of BK Festival: “I wanted to reach out to you, as I know you have many concerns about our proposed project. I wanted to arrange a time when we can meet & discuss in detail all the wonderful family attractions we plan to bring to Coney Island this season. For the record BK Festival which will function like a state fair, comes to the new Coney Island with an array of colorful family experiences some of which includes – Monthly culturally themed activities, Interactive Sponsored Activities, Free Give Aways, Equestrian Center with pony rides & petting zoos, Live Entertainment (Concerts, Car Shows, Rodeos) International Food Court and our Outdoor Shopping Experience.” ATZ looks forward to bringing you a Q & A with the BK Festival Director in the coming days!

Cached version of BKFestival.com website as it appeared on Mar 29, 2011

Are there any amusement parks in America that boast a flea market? A web search turned up a handful of defunct parks, including Williams Grove in Mechanicsburg, PA, which now host flea markets. A Yelper wrote: “Last time I was there I overhead a little boy whose comment to his dad really summed up the place best. ‘They closed down the park and turned it into a yard sale.'” On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Colorado’s Mile High Marketplace, a huge flea, farmers and antiques market with a few amusement rides. Coney Island, the birthplace of the amusement industry, is in a class by itself. Yet it’s become the guinea pig for Joe Sitt’s retail-by-the-sea aspirations.

Over the weekend, ATZ talked to a few Coney business operators to find out their opinion of the market. Ride and game operators said that it’s better than having empty lots. They preferred to have amusements, which would stay open late and draw crowds rather than a flea market that will be dark at night. In Coney Island, the crowd comes late and stays late, often till 2 am. But amusement operators seemed resigned to the fact that Thor wasn’t about to bring in a carnival again. In the years leading up to the rezoning, Sitt brought in Reithoffer Shows, Geren Rides and other temporary amusements.

Some business owners who sell food or souvenirs in Coney and pay high rent are worried that the flea vendors will undercut them with bargain basement prices and cheap merchandise. Parking is also a major concern. Will the vendors, who come early, take up the parking spaces ordinarily used by visitors? Paid parking is available for $10-$20 at the Aquarium and MCU, but it can be a traffic jam on weekends. The BK Festival website promises “Free Shuttle Bus Drives Tourist Traffic To Event.”

At Thor Equities Flea by the Sea, Tons of Fun = Lots of Schlock. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Summer 2009: At Thor Equities Flea by the Sea, "Tons of Fun" = Lots of Schlock. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

At Thor’s Flea by the Sea, stands selling clothing and shoes were a reminder that in April 2009 Sitt’s pitch book unsuccessfullly used to lobby BP Markowitz for 10,000 square feet retail touted flagship retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap/Banana Republic, and DSW (“Thousands of shoes…prices you love”). Was the flea market part of a strategy to win a variance from a future administration for 10,000 square foot retail?

And this brings us back to Coney Island’s C-7 Zoning. We’ve appended the complete list of Use Groups A, B, and C below since most people snooze at the thought of looking at a zoning document. “A1″ is for Amusements and is of course our fave. Use Group C is Retail. It’s a little tricky to figure out how “OVER 100,000 SQUARE FEET OF SHOPPERS DELIGHT!” is permitted when Sitt failed to win 10,000 square foot retail and “Use Group C uses shall be limited to 2,500 square feet of floor area and 30 feet of street frontage, except that on corner lots one street frontage may extend up to 100 feet.” Oh, but this is a Temporary Fair. And how many years will that be? Until Joe Sitt develops the property or sells it.

Tops $5 Each. Vendors at Thor Equities Flea Market, Coney Island. June 6, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

There’s also…

(b) Bowery and Wonder Wheel Way

“At least 50 percent of Bowery and Wonder Wheel Way street frontage of any zoning lot shall be occupied by Use Group A1 use at the ground floor level, and not more than 50 percent of the Bowery and Wonder Wheel Way street frontage of any zoning lot shall be
occupied by Use Group C uses at the ground floor level.”

(d) Stillwell Avenue and West 10th Street
“At least 15 percent of the Stillwell Avenue and West 10th Street street frontage of any zoning lot shall be occupied by Use Group A1 uses at the ground floor level.

Use Group A1…Amusement arcades; Amusement parks, with no limitation on floor area per establishment; Animal exhibits, circuses, carnivals or fairs of a temporary nature; Camps, overnight or day, commercial beaches or swimming pools;Dark rides, electronic or computer-supported games, including interactive entertainment facilities, laser tag and motion simulators; Ferris wheels, flume rides, roller coasters, whips, parachute jumps, dodgem scooters, merry-go-rounds or similar midway attractions; Fortune tellers, freak shows, haunted houses, wax museums, or similar midway attractions; Miniature golf courses and model car hobby centers, including racing; Open booths with games of skill or chance, including shooting galleries and Water parks

Use Group A2…Arenas or auditoriums, with capacity limited to 2,000
seats; Billiard parlors or pool halls, table tennis halls or bowling alleys, with no limitation on number of bowling lanes per establishment; Gymnasiums or recreational sports facilities, including but not limited to indoor golf driving ranges, batting cages, basketball, volleyball, squash and other courts, without membership requirements; Skateboard parks, roller or ice skating rinks;Theaters, including movie theaters, provided such use does not occupy the ground floor level of a building, except for lobbies limited to a maximum street frontage of 30 feet, except that on corner lot one street frontage may extend up to 100 feet.

Tupperware Party at Thor Equities Flea. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Use Group B: Amusement and entertainment-enhancing uses…
Art gallery, commercial; Banquet halls;Breweries; Eating or drinking establishments of any size, including those with entertainment or dancing; Historical exhibits; Spas and bathhouses;Studios, art, music, dancing or theatrical;Tattoo parlors; Radio or television studios; Wedding chapels

Use Group C: Retail and service uses

Arts and crafts production and sales, including but not limited to ceramics, art needlework, hand weaving or tapestries, book binding, fabric painting, glass blowing, jewelry or art metal craft and wood carving; Bicycle sales, rental or repair shops;Bookstores; Candy or ice cream stores; Clothing or clothing accessory; Clothing, custom manufacturing or altering for retail, including costume production and hair product manufacturing; Delicatessen stores; Fishing tackle or equipment, rental or sales; Gift shops; Jewelry manufacturing from precious metals; Musical instruments store; Music stores; Newsstands Patio or beach furniture or equipment; Photographic equipment stores and studios; Sporting goods or equipment, sale or rental, including instruction in skiing, sailing or skin diving; Toy stores

Box of Sox at Anchor Store # 6, Joe Sitt's Flea by the Sea. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

May 26, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Make Dismal Debut

March 29, 2011: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Close to Deal in Coney Island

May 13, 2010: Scoop: Deal to Rent Thor’s Coney Island Lots a No-Go for Fair Producer

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

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