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Amusement Park Opening Soon

Steeplechase the Fun Place Amusement Park Opening Soon. Photo © Jim McDonnell. All rights Reserved

On Sunday, a sign appeared on the fence at the Thor Equities lot on Stillwell Avenue leased to the BK Festival announcing the opening of “Steeplechase Amusement Park.” We’ve known for several weeks that rides and amusements were planned for the former flea market this summer, but details were pending.

Will McCarthy, event director of the BK festival, tells ATZ that the flea market didn’t mesh with the Coney Island location and this season the BK Festival will bring in rides and amusements in addition to a smaller number of vendors. The flea market is expected to continue until the rides debut in May. Among the old school carnival flat rides confirmed for the event are a Himalaya, Ring of Fire, Trabant and Cakewalk. There will be also be a climbing wall, McCarthy said. Additional rides and amusements will be announced soon. The BK Festival’s partners went to the carnival convention in Gibsonton, Florida, last month to recruit ride operators for Coney Island.

Why did they choose the name Steeplechase Park? “We want to bring back a lot of things that used to be on the property,” says McCarthy. “It’s a tribute to Steeplechase Park.”

sign

Steeplechase Park Sign Already Defaced. © Magical Theme Parks. All Rights Reserved

And why not? Coney Island’s three grand amusement parks of the early 20th century were Steeplechase, Dreamland and Luna Park, and the names of the last two are already taken. When Joe Sitt brought carnivals to his property in the summers leading up to the 2009 rezoning, he called it Dreamland Amusement Park. Zamperla named their park after Thompson and Dundy’s Luna Park. Although the new parks bear very little resemblance to the originals, the familiar names evoke memories and exert a powerful pull. We’re just happy the BK Festival, which has a three-year lease, will not be a flea market this summer. We wish them well. Evidently one person wasn’t thrilled with this iteration of the Funny Face. The sign, which has a couple of unfortunate misspellings, was almost immediately defaced.

The park will be the third Steeplechase. In 1967, Norman Kaufman leased part of the Tilyou’s Steeplechase site from Fred Trump and called his park Steeplechase Park, according to Charles Denson’s Coney Island: Lost and Found. The Jumbo Jet, Cortina, Bumper Cars, Go Karts, Batting Cages and a Miniature Golf Course were among Kaufman’s attractions over the years. Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City was on this piece of land until he was evicted by Thor Equities in 2007.

Club Atlantis

Cha Cha's Club Atlantis Opening Soon. Photo © Magical Theme Parks. All Rights Reserved

Another sign on the fence announced “Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis Opening Soon,” setting the stage for two clubs with the same name. Cha Cha, one of the Coney Island 8 evicted from the Boardwalk by Zamperla, is opening a restaurant on Surf Avenue as well as a reincarnation of his Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis. His former Boardwalk location, which will become Tom’s Restaurant, was the site of the original Club Atlantis. Across the way, the former Steve’s Grill House and Beer Island are set to become Zamperla’s Club Atlantis. Last month, Zamperla CEO Valerio Ferrari told the NY Post that a new beach bar called Club Atlantis would offer beer, wine and dancing.

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Related posts on ATZ…

April 2, 2012: BK Festival’s 1st Amusement Rides Arrive in Coney Island

November 15, 2011: Coney Island 2012: What’s New on the Boardwalk

May 16, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Make Dismal Debut

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

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flea market

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

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.

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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Related posts on ATZ...

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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