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Posts Tagged ‘Stillwell Avenue’

Thor's Coney Island

Thor’s Coney Island: Aerial view of vacant lots on south side of the Bowery between W 12th and W 15th where amusements once thrived. July 7, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Thor Equities’ huge vacant lots on Stillwell Avenue in the heart of Coney Island were cleaned up over the weekend and two different sources say rides are coming. The news is unconfirmed and it’s hard not to be skeptical considering the history of what’s been here since Joe Sitt acquired the land and began evicting longtime ride and park operators in 2006. But everybody — or almost everybody– wants to see the property activated instead of sadly sitting vacant (and yes, that is a pun). If temporary rides are in the stars for Thor’s Coney Island this season, let’s hope it works out this time. Despite various amusement operators efforts to negotiate lease deals, the lots remained vacant in 2010 and again last year.

Ring of Fire

Geren Rides’ Ring of Fire on Stillwell Ave in Coney Island, July 5, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita

A little history in case you weren’t around to experience the drama: In October 2006, eight amusement businesses, including Norman Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City and Eddie Miranda’s Zipper, which inspired the film Zipper, received notice from new property owner Thor Equities to be out by the end of the year. On Memorial Day Weekend 2008, Joe Sitt proclaimed “The Summer of Hope” and filled the reviled empty lots on Stillwell with carnival rides from Reithoffer Shows and Geren Rides for a limited run. Hope died when the rides left in mid-July and were replaced by a couple of inflatable bounces.

inflatable bouncer

After the carnival left: Batman and Cinderella’s Castle inflatable bounces on Thor’s vacant lot in Coney Island. August 8, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita

Skeptics said the amusements were a ruse in the lead-up to the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009. At the time, Sitt and the City were at a standoff in negotiations over a compromise plan that would reduce the acreage of the amusement zone and allow high-rise hotels on the south side of Surf Avenue.

Cobra Ride

The Cobra was among the flat rides at Cha Cha’s Steeplechase Park on Stillwell Avenue. June 23, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

Failed flea markets made a mockery of the rezoning in 2009 and 2011. “Festival by the Sea” and the “BK Festival” were granted City permits as a “temporary fair” because a flea market is not a permitted use on this property in Coney Island. Clever, huh? In 2012, rides, games and sideshows returned to Thor’s Stillwell lots for the first time since 2008. As a critic of flea markets on land where the Tornado roller coaster (1927-1977) and the Bobsled (1941-1974) had once thrilled, we were happy to see the BK Festival and Thor Equities take this new direction.

Among the rides were the Cobra, which amusement park blogger The DOD3 describes as White Trash Carny Ride #7. “Every Cobra I’ve been on looks like it’s stuck in a 70s timewarp but they all give wonderfully intense rides,” he writes. Other WTCRs on his list are the Skydiver (#1), the Zipper (#3) and the Trabant (#9), all of which Coney used to have. A Trabant was one of the rides at Dreamland, a temporary park on the former Astroland site in 2009.

BK Festival: Giant Slide on Stillwell Avenue West. April 8, 2012. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

There were problems at the Stillwell Avenue park from the get-go. Originally set to open on Memorial Day Weekend 2012, the park was not able to open till four weeks later. A Giant Slide and Zipline never opened at all. Filing of paperwork with City agencies and bureaucratic red tape was blamed for the delay. City permitting issues relating to fencing closed the park intermittently and irregular hours had some visitors asking if and when it was open. The Mega Whirl, a prototype ride that combined the thrill of the Whip and the Tilt-A-Whirl debuted here and its abandoned platform remains on the lot, a symbol of financial ruin and broken dreams.

MegaWhirl Ride in Coney Island

MegaWhirl Ride and Zipline on Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island. November 11, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

March 11, 2014: Thor’s Coney Island: BurgerFi, Arcade Coming to Stillwell & Surf

March 10, 2014: High Hopes for Coney Island’s New Thunderbolt Coaster

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

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

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Sleep Inn Hotel

Under Construction: Sleep In Hotel at at 2590 Stillwell Avenue. December 1, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

A Sleep Inn Hotel, the Coney Island area’s first new hotel in many decades, is under construction at Stillwell Avenue and Avenue Z, just north of Coney Island Creek. A sign on the construction fence says “Anticipated Completion: Fall 2015.” Mahesh Ratjani, one of the partners in the project, tells ATZ: “We are hoping to have it completed by the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015.” According to DOB records, a 12,989 square foot, four-story hotel will occupy the 13,000 square foot lot. Sleep Inn is a member of the Choice Hotels Group.

Ratjani and his partners own 15 hotels in New York and New Jersey, including the Comfort Inn off the Gowanus Expressway in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. The vacant lot at 2590 Stillwell Avenue was purchased for $1.9 million in 2007, according to Property Shark. The property is conveniently located off the Cropsey Ave/Coney Island exit of the Belt Parkway. The area is technically on the border of Gravesend and Bath Beach, though frequently identified as part of Coney Island. The closest subway stop is Bay 50th, one stop from Coney’s Stillwell Terminal, on the D line.

Sleep Inn Hotel Under Construction

Under construction at 2590 Stillwell Avenue. December 1, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

There are currently no hotels in the Coney Island area and it’s been many decades since a new one opened. On Stillwell Avenue at Mermaid, the long-shuttered Terminal Hotel across from Stillwell Terminal was constructed between 1907 and 1930, and housed a hotel by 1930 and perhaps as early as 1915 when the subway station opened. In the 1940s, it had a popular grill with live music, but by the 1960s and ’70s had deteriorated into a flophouse and was condemned.

In 1927, the Half-Moon Hotel opened on the Boardwalk at 29th Street and was managed by the American Hotels Corporation and financed by prominent members of the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce. “The Great Depression killed the Chamber’s dream of greatness and the hotel sat exiled at the West End until the beginning of WW II when it was transformed into a naval hospital,” according to the Coney Island History Project. It later became a geriatric center before being demolished in 1996.

New Construction

New construction: Sleep In Hotel at 2590 Stillwell Avenue. December 1, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The City’s rezoning of Coney Island included the upzoning of three Thor Equities-owned properties on the south side of Surf Avenue for hotels up to 30 stories. In public hearings, we argued against high rises — including hotels — on the south side Surf, saying it would destroy instead of enhance Coney Island’s economic potential as an amusement and tourism destination. As it turns out, a hotel has yet to be built on Surf Avenue and we can only hope it never will be. Instead, the Coney Island area’s first new hotel in decades is located in a much more suitable location north of the amusement area with easy access to the Belt Parkway.

The new Sleep Inn’s immediate neighbors are two-and three-story residential buildings, an equipment rental company, and Amore Rent-A-Car. The legendary Viola Pigeon Club, home of a 400-mile contest in which the birds were released in Ohio and flew back to New York, is directly across Stillwell Avenue. Since Frank Viola’s death in 2007, the race is no longer held, but the club and the story of the “return of the Coney Island homing pigeons” have been the subject of documentary films.

Viola Pigeon Club

Across the Avenue: Viola Pigeon Club, Stillwell Avenue and Ave Z. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Related posts on ATZ…

September 2, 2013: The New Coney Island: A Tale of Two Jones Walks

May 20, 2013: Photo Album: Coney Island May 2013 Construction Update

August 2, 2012: New Building Breaks Ground Next to Coney Island’s Stillwell Terminal

December 20, 2011: Update: Coney Island’s 1st Private Beachfront Condos on Boardwalk

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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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