The five-legged Yorkie puppy and dozens of other live and preserved freaks in John Strong’s Oddity Museum will soon take up residence at 1104 Surf Avenue, Coney Island’s oldest building. The Texas based sideshow operator plans to arrive in Coney Island by Easter weekend. “The lease is for three years,” Strong tells ATZ. “I can’t discuss the price. Thor specified that one thing. The price is simply just agreeable for all parties involved.”
As first reported by ATZ in January, Strong flew to New York and made a pitch to lease the Grashorn Building at Surf Ave and Jones Walk. Strong says the on-again, off-again deal has finally been approved by Thor CEO Joe Sitt.
A multi-year lease for seasonal tenants in Thor Equities’ Coney Island properties would be a first. One year leases and doubling of the rent have been the norm. It’s a clear sign that real estate speculator Joe Sitt is indeed going to “sitt” on his Coney property until the City’s infrastructure work is done and Coney Island is on the road to revitalization before he sells.
The Freak Museum’s tenancy is great news for the long vacant Grashorn. Last month, Coney Island’s oldest building was flooded by a spiteful squatter and had to be put on 24-hour security watch. The building fronts Surf Avenue and extends along the west side of Jones Walk. Yet this prime location remained vacant and devoid of activity in 2009 due to Thor CEO Joe Sitt’s soaring rents. Last summer, a business owner who had leased a small stand on the Walk from Thor in 2008 told us the 2009 rent had tripled from $8,000 to $24,000. He declined the space and left Coney Island.
ATZ will be happy to see the building fixed up and open for business again. We’ve worked a game on the east side of Jones Walk and can’t tell you how depressing it is to face the shuttered gates of Thor day after day! Vacant and shuttered buildings are bad for business on Surf Ave and the Walk. It makes the Walk look uninviting. This part of Thorland hasn’t gotten as much attention as Stillwell, but it’s another example of deliberate blight.
John Strong’s Freak Museum will certainly improve the view from our stand…
“You’re going to see 13 feet of brand new banners and 250 attractions in circus wagons,” says Strong “The 130′ will wrap around to Surf Ave. This is going to be the biggest, the finest, the greatest attraction in Coney Island during the 2010 Season. We’ve got four other shows going up on other Thor parcels. We haven’t secured Stillwell yet.”
Last week, the Coney Island Rumor Mill was saying that Sitt was asking $500,000 for both sides of Stillwell and he wanted all of the money up front! Amusement park operators from the Jersey Shore were set to bring in go karts but the deal fell apart due to onerous lease clauses and the $250K rent for the east side of Thor’s Stillwell parcel. Various carnival operators have come and gone from talks with Thor Equities. If Strong manages to secure Stillwell, it won’t be all circus sideshows. He plans to bring in go karts and carnival rides. Essentially he’d be putting together a midway made up of rides and attractions from various amusement operators.
“I’ve got to pull rabbits out of a hat to get spectacular rides and other attractions to fill Stillwell at this late date,” Strong tells ATZ. “I’m good at doing that. I know everyone in the amusement business. Because there are so many shows and so many parcels, I’m not sure which parcel will have which show. Also, with Stillwell not being nailed down or not nailed down as yet, I may or may not have additional parcels to play with.”
Rumor has it that Strong will put his Strange Girls Show, a live show which was on the former Astroland site last summer, on the lot across from Coney Island USA. The last time anything like this happened was in 1996 when Strong’s stepfather Bobby Reynolds had his oddity museum in the former Bank of Coney Island building. Will 2010 be the summer of duelling sideshows on West 12th Street?
UPDATE April 29, 2010:
John Strong’s deal to rent the Grashorn is off! We’re sorry that rumors of Joe Sitt’s plans to demolish historic buildings which we reported in last week’s post “Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings” (ATZ, April 21, 2010) have turned out to be true. This is one time we would have preferred for the rumors to have remained just rumors.
Today, in response to a flurry of queries from reporters about Sitt’s still unleased empty lots and vacant properties, Thor Equities pr flack Knickerbocker SKD issued a press release announcing Sitt’s intention to begin demolishing the buildings and to replace them with other structures by May 2011. According to the release, “These structures will be replaced with more attractive, retail-friendly and up-to-code shops for the type of retailers Coney is famous for.” See “Thor’s Coney Island: Joey “Bulldozer” Sitt Is Baaack Playing Games!” (ATZ. April 29, 2010)
Translation: More Bull-Sitt from Thor Equities. More deliberately created empty lots.
Related posts on ATZ…
January 13, 2010: John Strong Sideshow Aims for Coney Island Comeback