As part of the controversial Coney Island Rezoning of 2009, Thor Equities CEO Joe Sitt got Mayor Bloomberg to rezone his Surf Avenue property in the amusement area for hotels of up to 30 stories. A century old music hall fell to the wrecking ball and a generic looking retail building went up in its place but Thor’s hotels have yet to materialize. Now Sitt says he “needs some zoning changes” to build “a great big hotel” and a “stadium-style movie theater” on Stillwell and Bowery, according to a recent interview with NY1’s Jeanine Ramirez.
We were shocked to read this news since the lots between Stillwell and West 12th bordered by the Bowery and Wonder Wheel Way were rezoned by the City for amusements, open and enclosed, and entertainment retail, not high-rise hotels. Why were we not surprised? In 2012, Thor Equities sent out a flyer for leasing opportunities touting “Future Hotel” across from the Wonder Wheel and adjacent to Scream Zone and “Future Movie Theater” behind Nathan’s Famous. So this was Sitt’s plan after the rezoning and remains the plan, though the graphics vanished from Thor’s website a few years ago?
Thor Equities’ long vacant lots are back to being labelled “Stillwell East” and “Stillwell West” on their website. West is home to the second season of Coney Art Walls. East is expected to host Go Karts and Mini Golf, which ATZ first reported as a rumor in April. It’s great news if it’s true and proof that everything old is new again in Coney Island. Go Karts and Mini Golf were among the amusements evicted by Thor’s CEO in 2006, when he bought this property where rides had existed for more than 100 years. ATZ’s advice is to enjoy these attractions while you can because Sitt regards them as temporary activation of the property.
In 2009, Joe Sitt got his zoning for high-rise hotels on Surf despite opposition from activists and advocacy groups and the New York Times. “We like the Municipal Art Society’s idea of doubling the size of the amusement area and removing hotels from the south side of Surf Avenue. This way, when visitors get off the subway, they will meet sunlight and open air, not a high-rise barricade,” said a Times editorial published on the eve of the 2009 rezoning vote at the City Council. The other fear voiced at protests and public hearings was that the “hotels” would eventually be converted to condos, which were part of Sitt’s original plans.
Here’s the NY City Planning Department’s zoning text for the property where Sitt now says he needs zoning changes: “Building frontage along Wonder Wheel Way and Bowery would be required to be occupied by at least 50 percent amusement uses within Use Group A1 [traditional amusement uses such as roller coasters, dark rides, circuses, arcades and midway attractions] and hotels located on lots larger than 20,000 sf would be required to dedicate 20 percent of their floor area towards Use Group A1 whether located on-site or off-site anywhere in the proposed Coney East subdistrict. This modification would strengthen the ground-floor requirements for traditional amusement uses to ensure that Coney Island maintains its one-of-a-kind amusement character.”
The truly alarming part in the NY1 piece is Sitt saying he’s “dealing with” the City on the issue of the zoning changes. Who is he lobbying– the Mayor’s Office, City Planning? Is he setting the stage for applying for an economic “hardship variance” from the Board of Standards and Appeals? Be vigilant, people of the People’s Playground. It wouldn’t be the first time the zoning passed by one administration has been undone by another.
Steeplechase died in 1966, after Fred Trump bought the property and threw a party to celebrate the destruction of the Pavilion of Fun, which is the subject of a new exhibit opening this weekend at the Coney Island History Project. “The Trump Organization office views the acreage as a potential site for a modern Miami Beach type high rise apartment,” according to the New York Times clipping of “6 Bikinied Beauties Attend Demolishing of Coney Landmark.” Trump’s effort to get the zoning changed to residential failed to get approval. Thanks to the Rezoning of 2009, the City itself is planning to do what the City wouldn’t let Fred Trump do 50 years ago: Build residential towers on part of the Steeplechase site, where the MCU parking lot is now.
Related posts on ATZ…
October 17, 2013: The New Coney Island: Thor Equities Vacant Lots, Dummy Arcades