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Coney Art Walls Marie Roberts

Coney Art Walls Mural painted by Marie Roberts in 2015 will be replaced by a new Roberts mural this season.

Coney Art Walls, an art project curated by Jeffrey Deitch that turned Thor Equities’ vacant lot behind Nathan’s into a pop culture destination last summer will be back in 2016. Seven murals painted on concrete, will stay for another season. Most of the other walls have been sandblasted and are blank canvases awaiting a new group of artists set to begin painting this spring.

“We are working on the artist line up for Coney Art Walls upcoming season,” Ethel Seno, who manages and coordinates the project for Jeffrey Deitch, told ATZ.

Jeffrey Deitch at Coney Art Walls

Curator Jeffrey Deitch at Coney Art Walls. May 23, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The art walls are interspersed with colorful shipping containers that housed Red Hook Lobster Pound, Home Frites, Bon Chovie and several other Smorgasburg vendors last summer. The cafe tables and chairs amid the art walls were a welcome amenity in Coney Island where there is a dearth of public seating. Thor Equities is close to finalizing an agreement to bring a new food operator because Smorgasburg will not be sending its vendors to Coney Island in 2016. “Not this year for us,” Eric Demby, co-founder of Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg told ATZ.

26096965360_a602fc4c02

Smorgasburg vendors Blue Marble Ice Cream and New Yorkina in shipping container pop-ups at Coney Art Walls. May 23, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Last year, Thor’s vacant lot across the street, bounded by Stillwell Avenue and West 12th Street, hosted a popular trapeze school, wrestling matches and other entertainments, and an outdoor cafe. A banner advertising the lot for lease went up in the middle of March. On Thursday, some heavy machinery was brought it to break up the asphalt, lending credence to the idea that we heard from the Coney Island Rumor Mill. A go kart track is said to be the next new thing there, and possibly a miniature golf course.

If it turns out to be true, it’s great news and proof that everything old is new again in Coney Island. Go karts and mini golf were among the amusements evicted by Thor CEO Joe Sitt when he first bought the property in 2007.

As for Thor Equities newly acquired properties on the Bowery, sources tell ATZ the mom and pop concessionaires and food operators got a new lease with only a slight rent increase – due in three payments– but the cost of their insurance policy has tripled. Please patronize Coney Island’s independent operators this summer!

Thor Equities lot

Thor Equities lot on West 12th Street may get a go kart track. March 10, 2016. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Monica

Monica, the High Striker Queen of Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita

Coney Island’s High Striker Queen is the first victim of the City’s scheme to use eminent domain to acquire six privately owned lots for “the revitalization of Coney Island.” One of the lots is the location where Monica and her partner Jeff ran their popular Mom & Pop “hit the hammer, ring the bell” game for the past four seasons. In an interview with ATZ, our crying and distraught friend said that on Sunday, just three weeks before Coney’s opening day, she was told by a rep of 12th Street Amusements that she could not set up this year. “I’m heartbroken. If I can’t find another place, I’m going to leave Coney Island for the last time.”

“Block 8696, parts of lot 140” at 3025 West 12th Street is owned by the Murray family and has been used for amusements for over 100 years, according to testimony by Carol Murray at the October 19, 2015 eminent domain hearing, as ATZ previously reported (“Goodbye Ghost Hole, MCU Parking Lot? City’s Coney Land Grab Not Just Vacant Land,” ATZ, October 20. 2015).

The Bloomberg administration was right to back off from the idea of taking land by condemnation from Thor Equities and other Coney Island property owners during the rezoning hearings in 2009. Under sharp questioning by City Council land use committee members, the NYCEDC’s Seth Pinsky was forced to admit, “I’m not saying we will use eminent domain, but in fairness to your question, I’m not saying we won’t.” In order to get Council members to agree to vote for the zoning, the NYCEDC instead had to negotiate an agreement to buy property from Thor Equities. At the same time, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and other property owners were no longer threatened by E.D.

Block 8696 parts of lot 140

Block 8696, parts of lot 140 on West 12th Street. The area marked in red, where the Ghost Hole is located and the High Striker was until recently, is to be taken by eminent domain. October 19, 2015

Now the de Blasio administration plans to take this piece of land by condemnation to complete Wonder Wheel Way, a pedestrian walkway hatched by city planners and enshrined in the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009. The idea is to connect the landmark Parachute Jump, Wonder Wheel and Cyclone. But the walkway would cut through 12th Street Amusements, as well as Wonder Wheel Park and Luna Park, forcing the removal or relocation of rides and attractions in its path, including 12th Street’s Ghost Hole and the indie High Striker.

Twelfth Street Amusement’s Guerrero family, who own and operate the Polar Express, Ghost Hole and two other rides, have a long-term lease on the Murray property and since 2012 had sublet the southernmost corner of it to Monica and Jeff for their High Striker. Just prior to the October 2015 hearing, Monica and her partner were forced to cut short the season and remove all of their equipment.

Ghost Hole

12th Street Amusements’ Ghost Hole and Monica’s High Striker are in the path of the City’s proposed extension of Wonder Wheel Way. October 11, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

“Up until today, I was led to believe there was a chance I could come back. Now I’m left scrambling,” said Monica, who has been displaced before due to changes in land ownership, yet she always managed to come back. When ATZ worked a game on Jones Walk in 2008, Monica was a few doors down. She had locations on the Bowery prior to moving to West 12th Street. Now however, Monica says: “There’s very limited space available for us. Because of people buying up property, there’s next to nothing.”

ATZ asked attorney Jennifer Polovetsky, whose law firm Sanchez & Polovetsky handles eminent domain cases, including the last holdouts at Atlantic Yards, whether displaced subtenants as well as tenants are eligible for compensation. “It depends on the terms of the lease and whether there are eligible trade fixtures,” said Polovetsky. “There’s not a blanket rule.”

Wonder Wheel Way

Wonder Wheel Way is a work in progress. Section between Stillwell Ave and West 15th St used as a parking lot for Luna Park. October 11, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

January 28, 2016: EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Persily Recalls Family’s Coney Island Years After Sale of Property to Thor Equities

November 9, 2015: Thor Equities Buying 3 Lots on Coney Island’s Bowery, Mom & Pops Await Rent Increase Amid Rumors of Hotel

October 20, 2015: Goodbye Ghost Hole, MCU Parking Lot? City’s Coney Land Grab Not Just Vacant Land

September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

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water race game

Water race game on Coney Island’s Bowery is one of the tenants in the buildings recently sold by Jeff Persily. Photo © Tricia Vita

What does it feel like to leave Coney Island after more than 60 years? ATZ asked Jeff Persily, who grew up working his family’s games on the Bowery and recently closed the sale of three lots–1105, 1205 and 1207 Bowery– to Thor Equities.

ATZ broke the news of the real estate deal in November, amid speculation that the Bowery buildings are destined for a date with the wrecking ball, as one of Thor’s long vacant lots on West 12th Street was rezoned by the Bloomberg administration for a 30-story hotel. Long owned by the Persily family, the properties stretch from West 12th Street to Jones Walk and are home to a dozen game, novelty and food concessionaires.

With the acquisition of 1105 Bowery, Sitt now owns the entire block bounded by Surf Avenue and the Bowery with the exception of one privately held lot on Jones Walk.

1205 Bowery Coney Island

Water Race Game and Gyro Corner are among the tenants at 1205-1207 Bowery, which Persily sold to Thor Equities along with the lot on the east side of West 12th Street. November 1, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Back in 2007, when Jeff Persily was asked by the NY Times if he would sell to Sitt, he said, “At the end of the day, combining all the properties and building amusements, hotels and residential would be a wonderful thing for New York. We’re talking about creating not hundreds of jobs but many thousands of jobs. I love Coney Island. I’d love to see it become what it once was when I was a kid.”

Persily’s late father Sid was the oldest of five children and supported his whole family through working at Coney, he says. “He was able to put himself through college and was a teacher (summers off), but still worked the games.” Sid’s siblings included Phil aka “Fishie,” a Coney concessionaire since 1929. The Persilys introduced the first water race game to Coney Island in 1960 and once owned the bumper cars where Woody Allen would film the famous scene in Annie Hall (1977), says his son. The Persilys are among the very last families owning property in Coney Island to sell to Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities.

Annie Hall Bumper Car Scene

The Bumper Car Scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Photo via ScoutingNY.com

“I started working in my father’s concessions before I was ten,” Persily said in an exclusive interview with ATZ. “In 1960 the first Water Race game was brought to Coney Island and was off the corner of Surf and West 15th st. I was 10 then and liked the idea that there was an actual winner every game, as opposed to the regular games at the time – Bushel Basket, Balloon, Cat Rack, etc.- which was always prone to people losing more money than they wanted.”

“We brought in the same Water Game, manufactured by Quinn who was the original and exclusive manufacturer at the time, and brought it to the Bowery between West 12th and Stillwell where it stayed until the late ’60s when a newer Balloon game was able to get around Quinn’s patent, and we had to update to it because everyone else in Coney was getting water games that were nicer than ours, and we had to compete.”

water race patent

Harold E. Quinn’s 1954 Patent for Water Gun Game which Phil Persily debuted to Coney Island

“I will never forget the great times I had there. Competing with our neighbors for customers on the Bowery till 5:00 A.M. and then reopening at noon the next day. We owned the Cavalcade Bumping Cars on Surf Ave. till we sold it to the Handwerker family in the early seventies. I hated working that ride, the dust from the metal floor used to get into our lungs and we always sneezed black. On my wife’s 18th Birthday at 12:01 a.m. we were working the bumper cars, and one of our fondest memories is of us giving everyone a free ride in her honor.”

Asked the location of the bumper cars, Persily says: “In the 60’s there were two Bumping Car rides on Surf Avenue. One was next to Nathan’s that Nathan’s youngest brother Harry Handwerker ran, and the other was between West 12th St and Jones Walk, which was the Cavalcade. There is a famous Woody Allen movie that was filmed on our ride.”

The film is of course Annie Hall, in which Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) famously says “You know, I have a hyperactive imagination. My mind tends to jump around a little, and have some trouble between fantasy and reality,” just before a shot of people in bumper cars happily bumping into each other. Alvy’s father, who ran the bumper car concession, stands in the center of the track directing traffic as Alvy’s voice says “There-there he is and there I am. But I-I-I used to get my aggression out through those cars all the time.”

Says Persily: “Coney Island will always be a part of me. I think I missed a lot, having to spend my youth there every day from April through September, but I also think I learned a lot. My years spent there were happy ones with no regrets. I wish all of the remaining, and all of the New families that are working there, Health, Happiness, and 100 days of sunshine!”

Related posts on ATZ…

November 9, 2015: Thor Equities Buying 3 Lots on Coney Island’s Bowery, Mom & Pops Await Rent Increase Amid Rumors of Hotel

September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

August 27, 2012: Video of the Day: Raw Footage of 1960s Coney Island

March 26, 2012: 60 Years of Family History in Coney Island End with Sale of Eldorado

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franchise restaurant row

Franchise Restaurant Row in progress on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue: Checkers, Pizza Hut, Red Mango, Johnny Rockets, Applebee’s, IHOP , and more to come. Photo © Tricia Vita

The year is young but ATZ already has exclusive news of the first lease of 2016 on Coney Island’s franchise restaurant row, the north side of Surf Avenue. Broker Joe Vitacco says, “On Friday we signed a lease, for the 1,900 square foot space at 1223 Surf Avenue, with franchisee Nafees Bukhara. Nafees owns the Popeye’s on Surf Avenue and will be opening a Pizza Hut Express.”

Bukhara will also open a Red Mango franchise, for which he bought the rights from Rahman Hashimi, the Johnny Rockets franchisee, as well as a pretzel franchise. The Pizza Hut Express will be on the ground floor to the right of the 6,000 square foot Johnny Rockets, in a building that has been under stop-and-go construction since a lease deal was signed three years ago.

“You ask why we don’t do Mom and Pops,” Vitacco said last year, in an ongoing conversation that began with ATZ’s 2012 post “Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?” He says that Mom and Pops wouldn’t be able to afford this, referring to the extraordinary delays and ballooning costs due to city and MTA red tape.

Unlike Manhattan, where Mom and Pops are being forced out by landlords who triple the rent and then turn around and lease to chains or upscale businesses, the new franchises on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue are replacing vacant lots or illegal furniture stores which have existed for years in defiance of the zoning.

Until the early 1980’s the north side of Surf was home to individually-owned penny arcades and a variety of rides including bumper cars, carousels and even a Jumbo Jet-style coaster. By the time the last ride– Coney Island’s B & B Carousell — closed in 2005, the north side was known as the wrong side of Surf Avenue to locate a business because of the lack of foot traffic. Now it is a mix of franchises and a few Mom & Pops like the Red Doors Bar & Grill and Luna Park Cafe.

Under construction

Construction in progress on Surf Avenue building for Johnny Rockets and Pizza Hut Express. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

October 2, 2015: Coney Eats: Magic Gyro & Checkers to Open, Kosher Pizza Signs Lease, Johnny Rockets & IHOP Underway

May 14, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Red Doors Bar & Grill Opens on North Side of Surf Ave

February 13, 2015: Coney Island 2015: IHOP Franchisee Signs Lease for 5,400-Square-Foot Surf Ave Store

September 11, 2013: Subway Cafe to Replace Furniture Store on Coney Island’s Surf Ave

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Coney Island Bowery

On Coney Island’s Bowery, indie amusement operators put up pennants for Memorial Day 2015. Will they be back in 2016? May 23, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Thor Equities’ CEO Joe Sitt is expanding his Coney Island empire by buying up three Bowery lots on both sides of West 12th Street. ATZ has learned that longtime property owner Jeff Persily and partner Matthew Weinberg are in contract with Thor to sell their property at 1105 Bowery (309 W 12th St), 1205 Bowery and 1207 Bowery. According to the agreement, the scheduled closing date is December 18, 2015.

The acquisition has set off speculation that the Bowery buildings are destined for a date with the wrecking ball, as one of Thor’s long vacant lots on West 12th Street is zoned for a 30-story hotel. With the purchase of 1105 Bowery, which stretches from West 12th Street to Jones Walk, Thor will own the entire block bounded by Surf Avenue and the Bowery with the exception of one privately owned lot on Jones Walk. Apart from the current tenants of 1105 Bowery, the rest of the Thor-owned lots and buildings on the block are vacant due to rent increases, evictions and demolitions that began in 2007 and culminated in 2010.

1205 Bowery Coney Island

Water Race Game and Gyro Corner are among the tenants at 1205-1207 Bowery, which is being bought by Thor Equities. November 1, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

A few days before Halloween, Weinberg met with some of their Bowery tenants, which include a bar and grill, food stands, games and photo and souvenir booths. He informed them the property was sold and that a Thor rep would contact them, setting off rumblings in the Coney Island Rumor Mill. Who will get to stay, for how long, and at what price? Some tenants were told to expect “a moderate rent increase,” sources tell ATZ.

The block where 1105 Bowery is located includes the vacant lot on West 12th across from Coney Island USA where the demolished Bank of Coney Island stood from 1923 until 2010, and the lot where the boarded up Grashorn Building, Coney Island’s oldest building, remains. The bank lot was rezoned for a hotel up to 30 stories, effectively dooming the historic building. Despite public outcry and a NY Times editorial against a wall of hotels on the south side of Surf, which will cast long shadows on the amusement zone, the Bloomberg administration pushed it through. The big beneficiary was Thor Equities’ Joe Sitt, who owns two of the Surf Avenue lots zoned for hotels.

A Winner Every Game

A Winner Every Game. This Water Race on Jones Walk is one of the tenants at 1105 Bowery, Coney Island. June 21, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Tenants at 1205-1207 Bowery include Gyro Corner and neighboring games and souvenir stands on West 12th Street. At 1105 Bowery, tenants are Margarita Island Bar & Grill, the 5D cinema, frozen yogurt, a basketball and dart games, water races, a food stand on the corner of Jones Walk and a photo booth and tattoo shop. Gyro Corner was on the Boardwalk, where Nathan’s is now, until Thor sold the property to the City’s Economic Development Corporation, which turned it over to Zamperla. Gyro was among five Boardwalk businesses that got the boot. So did Beer Island, which was reborn last year as Margarita Island on the Bowery.

Margarita Island

On Coney Island’s Bowery, Margarita Island and neighboring games getting ready for Memorial Day Weekend 2015. May 13, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Margarita Island owner Carl Muraca is optimistic about being back in 2016. He said Thor’s rep told him that “Joe Sitt knows you love Coney Island as much he loves Coney Island and he’s glad to have you there. We had a very positive conversation,” Muraca told ATZ. He is also a former Thor tenant, having owned Faber’s Fascination in the Henderson Building, a year-round arcade which lost its lease when the building was demolished. Muraca later moved his arcade to another Thor building, now vacant, on Surf.

Thor Equities also owns the lots on the south side of the Bowery, from West 12th Street to West 15th Street. On the north side, Thor properties include the building housing the Eldorado Bumper Cars and Arcade and Thor’s new “Retail Ride of A Lifetime” building where the Brooklyn Nets Shop and Wahlburger’s represent the new Coney Island’s displacement of amusements for shiny new retail and franchises.

Jones Walk Coney Island

Still open for business: Airbrush Tattoo stand on Jones Walk is a tenant at 1105 Bowery. November 1, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

We are keeping our fingers crossed that the Bowery’s Mom & Pops will be able to afford to stay in their spots next season and get more than a one-year reprieve. All are survivors who’ve had to move multiple times due to changes in property ownership leading up to and since the City’s Coney Island Rezoning of 2009. With redevelopment on the horizon for these blocks, the Bowery could be the last stand for some of these small businesses. As we reported in “The New Coney Island: A Tale of Two Jones Walks” (ATZ, November 2, 2013), an amusement business owner who had leased a small stand on the Walk from Thor in 2008 told us in 2009 that the rent had tripled from $8,000 to $24,000. He declined the space and left Coney Island, never to return.

Jones Walk, Off season

Jones Walk, off season. The long vacant Thor-owned Grashorn building, Coney Island’s oldest on the right. November 4, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

October 29, 2015: Environmental Assessment Underway at Coney Island’s Shore Theater

October 20, 2015: Goodbye Ghost Hole, MCU Parking Lot? City’s Coney Land Grab Not Just Vacant Land

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

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

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Coney Island Colorado

Coney Island Colorado Diner, Bailey, CO. Photo © RoadsideArchitecture.com

The historic 1960’s hot-dog shaped Coney Island Boardwalk restaurant in Bailey, Colorado, is up for sale again. Somebody is going to be sorry they didn’t buy it in 2011. The asking price is triple what it was back then, making it perhaps the priciest hot dog ever. According to local news reports, owner Ron Aigner is retiring and has listed the property for $1,495,000.

The diner’s designer Marcus Shannon of Lakewood, Colorado, planned a chain of hot dog diners and filed a patent for the design in 1965. The eatery was originally located on West Colfax in Denver. Since 1970, the Coney Island Boardwalk has been on scenic US Highway 285, first in Aspen Park and then in Bailey, about 30 miles southwest of Denver. The bun is 35 feet long and the hot dog 42 feet. Made of concrete-and-steel, this fine example of novelty architecture weighs a hefty 18 tons.

The building has been hailed as “the best example of roadside architecture in the state” by Thomas J. Noel, a Professor of History and Director of Public History, Preservation & Colorado Studies at the University of Colorado. In reply to ATZ’s email when the hot dog diner first went up for sale, Noel (aka “Dr. Colorado”) wrote: “We Coloradans should rally to save one of our greatest culinary landmarks, a most delicious morsel of pop roadside art. Hot Dog! Don’t let the Coney Island die.”

The first photo in this post was taken by our friend RoadsideNut, a New Yorker who has extensively documented America’s roadside architecture on her website. Check out the Burgers and Hot Dogs page, where the Coney Island in Colorado appears along with Top Dog, Giant Burger and other architectural wonders.

Broker Jim Urban posted a video tour of the Coney Island Boardwalk diner property on YouTube:

Related posts on ATZ…

November 18, 2014: ATZ’s Guide to Coney Island’s Honorary Walks and Places

June 10, 2014: What’s New at Paul’s Daughter: Lobster Rolls, Mama Burger Fundraiser, LEDs

January 28, 2011: Colorado’s Hot Dog-Shaped Coney Island Boardwalk Diner For Sale

January 19, 2010: Nathan Slept Here! Coney Island’s Feltman’s Kitchen Set for Demolition

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Shore Theater

Coney Island’s Shore Theater in the days after Hurricane Sandy. November 5, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

Can the Shore Theater, vacant for 40 years and designated a New York City landmark in 2010, be saved? On Monday, a group of people armed with bolt cutters cut the locks on a side door and went inside to find out. Sources on the scene told ATZ that one member of the group claimed they plan to buy and rehab the property as a hotel, restaurant and retail and need to find out if it is salvageable or beyond repair. Accompanying them was Kelly Floropoulos of Amiantos Environmental, whose firm does environmental site assessments. Reached by phone, Ms. Floropoulos told ATZ, “I can’t disclose any information. We’re still in the preliminary stages of assessment. It will take a few weeks.”

Shore Theater

Homeless encampment under the sidewalk shed at the Shore Theater. July 30, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

When the building was about to win landmark designation in 2010, we wrote “March 23: Rescuing Coney Island’s Shore Theater from 35 Years of Neglect” (March 8, 2010). However, five more years of neglect have followed. A sampling of complaints to the DOB since then has included homeless encampment residing on a regular basis on the sidewalk shed and inside the building accessing by a ladder, safety concerns for the homeless as well as the public, windows unboarded, doors ripped, scaffold area is dark and unmaintained, falling debris.

The mystery buyer said he was one of the owners of the lot on the north side of Surf across from the Cyclone. A phone call to PYE Properties, which has a sign up advertising Coming Soon Retail Stores for Rent on the undeveloped lot, yielded no additional info. “I don’t know what you’re referring to,” said a spokeswoman. “Call back in a month.”

Shore Theater

Shore Theater. June 13, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

September 29, 2015: Will 1938 Art Moderne Gem Become Coney Island’s Only Landmark Outside of Amusement Area?

May 4, 2015: Boardwalk Bunco: Milan Expo’s USA Pavilion Has Boardwalk from Coney Island, Brooklyn to Get Plastic & Concrete

March 11, 2015: In Coney Island, Two Stores and One NYC Landmark Mark 95th Year

November 18, 2014: ATZ’s Guide to Coney Island’s Honorary Walks and Places

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