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Boardwalk under construction

Walking on Boardwalk Under Construction, November 29, 1922. Photo by E.E. Rutter via NYC Dept of Records, Municipal Archives

This Sunday, May 15, is the 93rd anniversary of the official opening of Coney Island’s Riegelmann Boardwalk. Last week, Coney poet Michael Schwartz crooned a few lines from “Under the Boardwalk” and recited poetry as part of his testimony before the City Council’s Land Use Committee. He was among about 15 people who took time out from their work day to speak at City Hall in favor of Councilman Mark Treyger’s resolution that the Landmarks Preservation Commission designate the Boardwalk a scenic landmark.

The LPC had previously said no, but is now said to be reconsidering. You may want to phone, email or write letters of encouragement to Meenakshi Srinivasan, Commissioner of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Contact information is here. Use the hashtag #LandmarkTheBoardwalk when you post on social media.

Schwartz’s eloquent testimony, printed in full below, begins with an excerpt of his poem, “The Under-Talker,” from a book-in-progress of poems, short stories and monologues set in Coney Island and called The Invisible Exhibitionist and other Attractions.

What will happen to us now that they took away under the boardwalk?
We won’t be falling in love
under the boardwalk…
boardwalk.
I heard that pushing the sand right up under the boards like that is what causes them to erode and crack.
I wish we could have our down by the sea on a blanket with my baby under the boardwalk back.
Did you hear that when they filled it in Homeless John the Under-Talker was buried alive?
Under the boardwalk.
Yesterday I tripped on a broken board and fell on my ear
and I swear while I was there
I could still hear him talk.
If you listen closely…
you can still hear him talk.

First they came for under the boardwalk… Then they came for the boardwalk. It started already. Part of the boardwalk’s already been paved over, even though that’s not what the people wanted. And in the middle of the night before it would have been landmarked, they bulldozed our beloved original Thunderbolt. And they came under darkness in the middle of the night and destroyed our beloved West 8th Street bridge to the boardwalk that protected us from traffic, because we didn’t have the power to protect it. If we don’t have the power to protect our world famous beloved boardwalk that connects neighborhoods, businesses, and people, one day we will wake up and it won’t be there, at least not as we know it. Where’s the boardwalk? Oh my God, it’s a sidewalk. Don’t we have enough sidewalks?

Boardwalk Not Sidewalk

Boardwalk Not Sidewalk/No Concrete. Sign on Building Facing Boardwalk East of Ocean Parkway in Brighton Beach. Photo © Bruce Handy

The historic beloved boardwalk is one of the last walkways in our world that is an oasis from the concrete that hardens our souls and hammers our joints. Also, concrete will not absorb water or heat the way wood does. In this apocalyptic time of hurricanes and floods, the walkway by the water is wood for practical as well as aesthetic reasons. Coney Island is called the people’s park because it’s different than those other sanitized corporatized parks. When Coney becomes corporatized, such as when the Republican nominee’s father Fred destroyed Steeplechase, they demolish more than just the people’s parks, they break the people’s hearts.

We’ve seen too many New York treasures wiped out by corporate greed, little by little turning the greatest city in the world into just another impersonal unaffordable clone of Anymall, USA. We lost the original Penn Station, the 8th wonder of the world, because it wasn’t landmarked. We saved Grand Central Station because it was landmarked. If we don’t landmark the boardwalk, we’ll lose it. We’ll lose ourselves.

© Michael Schwartz

Truck on Coney Island Boardwalk

The City’s routine use of trucks and cars on the Boardwalk causes wear and tear on the boards. The Parks Dept has started to build a 10-foot wide concrete ‘carriage lane’ in Brighton Beach. Photo © Anonymouse

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 City Councilman Mark Treyger

Newly Elected City Councilman Mark Treyger at Coney Island Alliance Meeting. November 15, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

On Wednesday, City Council committee assignments were given out and Councilman Mark Treyger, who represents Coney Island, Gravesend and Bensonhurst, was selected as Chairman of the new Committee on Resiliency and Recovery. In December, the newly elected councilman, together with Councilman Carlos Menchaca, whose neighborhood of Red Hook was also devastated by the storm, called for the creation of a committee dedicated to the oversight of Sandy recovery efforts.

Treyger was also selected to be a member of five other committees whose issues are crucial to Coney Island: Land Use, Parks & Recreation, Education, Aging, and Plannings, Dispositions and Concessions.

“I am honored to have been selected to chair this new and vital committee and I take this post very seriously” said Councilman Mark Treyger. “This new committee will create a mechanism for greater oversight of Sandy recovery efforts in our city and ensure that allocated funds are spent on rebuilding impacted communities, strengthening our infrastructure to build up our resiliency, and preparing our coastal communities for future storms. The city’s recovery efforts thus far have simply not been fast enough.”

Last June, the City released “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” a comprehensive plan for rebuilding the communities impacted by Sandy and increasing the resilience of infrastructure and buildings citywide.

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Former site of go-karts, batting cages and other thriving amusements bulldozed or evicted by property owner Thor Equities in 2007. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Former site of go-karts, batting cages and other thriving amusements bulldozed or evicted by property owner Thor Equities in 2007. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr


We do very little to preserve the character and charm of our neighborhoods. Our city is made up of neighborhoods. Certainly Coney Island is unique not only to the city and the country but to the world. Everybody knows what Coney Island represents. The Mayor’s proposal will destroy that. You will never get that back.

City Councilman and Mayoral candidate Tony Avella speaking about “The Future of Coney Island” on today’s Brian Lehrer Show

A day before Wednesday’s full City Council vote on the Bloomberg administration’s rezoning plan for Coney Island, Councilman Avella said “The whole basis of this plan seems to be like a house of cards.”

As chairman of the Council’s Zoning and Franchises subcommittee, Avella introduced an amendment to the plan that would have enlarged the area for outdoor amusements and limited the height of hotels to 25 feet on the south side of Surf Avenue. Avella and Charles Barron, a member of the Zoning Subcommittee, were the only two council members to vote for the amendment.

Speaking by cell phone with Lehrer since campaigning is not allowed on City Hall phones, Avella said, “Part of the argument against the hotels south of Surf Avenue is when people drive by Surf Avenue or come by the subway you want to be able to see the amusements. That’s part of the attraction. So now people driving by or coming by subway are just going to see the hotels.”

Avella also pointed out that there would be little to draw people all the way out to Coney Island to stay in the hotels if the amusement area is reduced in size.

“Nine acres is nothing,” Avella says in a statement posted on his campaign website. “People aren’t going to come out to Coney Island unless there’s a full day of amusement there. This plan by the Bloomberg Administration will destroy the character of another New York City neighborhood. They seem determined to erase the history of New York City, just like they did in Harlem on 125th Street.”

After the Lehrer show we happened to read on City Room that more than three-quarters of voters surveyed in a new Quinnipiac poll do not know enough about Avella. We would tell them Avella is a strong advocate for historic preservation who authored the Demolition by Neglect bill in 2005. He is also an outspoken critic of overdevelopment.

We got our first look at Councilman Avella in action at the July 1 City Council subcommittee hearing on the Coney Rezoning which he chaired. We were impressed by his line of questioning and his attentiveness as a listener. The hearing was a gruelling eight hours, though the majority of the council members, the press and most of the audience left after the property owners had testified. Avella was one of the few council members who stayed till the end to hear everyone’s testimony.

Like many others at the hearing, ATZ spoke in favor of revitalizing Coney Island yet stated that the City’s plan needed modifications. As Avella said on the Lehrer show: “The overwhelming sentiment from the people who live in Coney Island was the plan could be better. We don’t have to settle just because the Mayor wants to get something through and say ‘hey, look I’m improving Coney Island for his re-election.’ We can do it better. ”

You can listen to the entire “Future of Coney Island” segment on the Lehrer Show here.

Councilman Tony Avellas Mayoral Announcement on the Steps of City Hall, March 2008.  Photo by tonyavella2009 via flickr

Councilman Tony Avella's Mayoral Announcement on the Steps of City Hall, March 2008. Photo by tonyavella2009 via flickr

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View of Surf Avenues Henderson Building and Shore Hotel from Stillwell Station. Owned by Thor Equities, these historic structures are  endangered by the city’s plan proposes four high-rise hotels of up to 27 stories along the south side of Surf Avenue. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

View of Surf Avenue's Henderson Building and Shore Hotel from Stillwell Station. Owned by Thor Equities, these historic structures are endangered by the city’s rezoning plan allowing four high-rise hotels of up to 27 stories along the south side of Surf Avenue. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

I’m happy to report the adorable-looking, headline-grabbing 5- legged puppy was “saved” from being sold to a Coney Island freak show. Now can we please grab your attention for a minute to Save Coney Island? The grassroots group Save Coney Island has called a rally on Sunday, July 26, at 1 p.m. in Columbus Park by the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall.

Juan Rivero of Save Coney Island told ATZ:

With the City Council set to vote on the plan this coming Wednesday, this rally is the public’s last chance to make its voice heard.

We are calling for more acres to be devoted to outdoor amusements, for the removal of the four high-rise hotel towers proposed for the south side of Surf Avenue, and for the preservation of Coney Island’s historic buildings. We share the hope and expectation expressed at the land use committee hearing by Council members Recchia, Katz, and others that the City will address our concerns through negotiations before the full Council vote.

If you live in NYC please phone AND email your City Council member, Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg. Remember, they are running for re-election in November and want your vote. Do they want to go down in history as the city officials who KILLED CONEY ISLAND? Of course not!

To find your City Council member, type your address on the City’s Council’s info page.

If you do NOT live in NYC, please send a DON’T KILL CONEY email to Mayor Michael Bloomberg
email:http://www.nyc.gov/html/mail/html/mayor.html
or phone 311 (1- 212-NEWYORK outside of the city) and
leave a “Comment for the Mayor.”

Visit Save Coney Island’s website for more info.

As for the 5- legged puppy story, I was dismayed to see the LA Times story “Coney Island freak show owner vows to fight for ownership of 5 legged puppy” knock the HuffPost editorial “How Mayor Bloomberg is Killing Coney Island” from the #1 slot in a Google search of “Coney Island.” The puppy was a featured attraction in yesterday’s NY Times, NY Post, NY Daily News and amNew York, as well as papers as far away as Ethiopia and New Zealand.

I’m pretty sure Coney Island sideshow operator John Strong’s threat to sue the puppy’s owner and reattach the dog’s amputated fifth leg is a publicity stunt. I kinda liked his earlier, more philosophical comment “Sometimes, you just gotta say: ‘OK, I still have nine live, two-headed animals,’ and move on.” Yes, let’s move on to Save Coney Island. It may be our last chance.

rally

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Joey Sitt Plays with Bulldozers in His Coney Island Sandbox. Art by Tiny Tim

Joey Sitt Enjoys Playing with Bulldozers in His Coney Island Sandbox. Art by Tiny Tim

Some toddlers never grow up. Meet Joey “Bulldozer” Sitt, CEO of Thor Equities, largest landowner in Coney Island. After a City Council Subcommittee passed Mayor Bloomberg’s rezoning plan today, Sitt told the NY Post, “I’m the guy who controls this – it’s my sandbox.” He added that he would be willing “to share my sandbox with my friend Mayor Mike.”

Translation: Lawyers for Joe Sitt and the City’s Economic Development Corporation are wheeling and dealing behind closed doors. The deal is that Sitt would sell at least half of his Coney property to the City and keep the rest to develop or flip. With most favorable zoning of course!

Thanks to graphic artist Tiny Tim for sending us the photo collage of Joey demolishing Coney Island’s go-karts, batting cages, bumper boats, and mini golf. Creating empty lots in Coney is this CEO’s favorite outdoor activity. The Astrotower is still standing because Sitt said he “fell in love” with it and wants to keep it.

Hey, we love the Astrotower too. We also believe Coney Island is the People’s Sandbox, not Joe Sitt’s. Give it back to us, you bully.

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Related posts on ATZ…

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

June 4, 2009: Coney Island Ride Count: Veteran Ride Ops 40, Joe Sitt 10!

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Councilman Domenic Recchia Reading Save Coney Island Brochure at City Council Hearing.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Councilman Domenic Recchia Reading "Save Coney Island" Brochure at City Council Hearing. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

At the July 1 City Council hearing on the City’s rezoning plan, Coney Island’s Councilman Domenic Recchia took a moment to study Save Coney Island’s pitch. The brochure, which you can download here, urges people to contact their elected officials and ask them to fix the plan. Save Coney Island recommends expanding the area for open-air amusements, moving the high rises from the south side of Surf Avenue, landmarking Coney’s historic buildings, and protecting small businesses.

Will these proposals make it into the revised plan that a City Council subcommittee votes on next week prior to a full Council vote on July 29? No one from Save Coney can say with certainty. Although the group’s reps met with sympathetic council members, they’ve been unable to get face time with Speaker Christine Quinn or Land Use Chair Melinda Katz.

Says Juan Rivero of Save Coney Island, “There is no surer way to ensure that the outcome of a negotiation will not be to your liking than to fail to participate in the negotiations. And thus far, we haven’t been invited to the table.”

Among those who have been invited to the table are labor unions, affordable housing advocates and property owners, notably Thor Equities. ATZ is worried that the City, which failed to appease Thor with the current compromise plan, will come to an even worse compromise with Thor to pass the rezoning. For the past two summers we’ve been documenting the real estate speculator’s deliberate emptying out and desecration of the amusement zone in the flickr set “Thorland.”

Tables & chairs for Thor Equities flea market across the way from shuttered Balloon Race Game. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Tables & chairs for Thor Equities flea market across the way from shuttered Balloon Race Game in Thor-owned Henderson Building, Bowery at Stillwell in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

No matter how the zoning goes, if anyone is under the misimpression that Joe Sitt will ever build anything here, just Google “Albee Square Mall” and “Thor Equities” and read about how he flipped the property and made $100 million after getting favorable zoning from the City. Just imagine how many millions Joe Sitt expects to make from selling the rezoned Coney Island!

The City Council hearing on the Coney Island rezoning plan was my first time inside City Hall. During the eight hour long proceeding— my two-minute slot didn’t come up until seven hours had gone by— I had plenty of time to contemplate a ceiling medallion that says: “A Government Of the People, By the People, For the People—Lincoln.” Apparently I wasn’t the only visitor impressed by this tribute to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Someone mentioned it in his testimony. Councilman Tony Avella, Chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises replied, “I hate to tell you how many times we don’t do that, but hopefully we can do it in this situation.” We hope so too.

A Government of the People, By the People, For the People--Lincoln. Ceiling of City Council Hearing Room, City Hall, NYC. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

A Government of the People, By the People, For the People--Lincoln. Ceiling of City Council Hearing Room, City Hall, NYC. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Save Coney Poster of the Day: Jane Jacobs Would Save Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Save Coney Poster of the Day: Jane Jacobs Would Save Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

This morning a group of Save Coney Island activists disguised as Jane Jacobs took their message to the dedication ceremony for “Jane Jacobs Way” in Manhattan’s West Village. Wearing wigs and glasses and waving signs that said “Jane Jacobs Would Save Coney Island,” they caught the attention of city officials who had gathered at Hudson Street between Perry and West 11th. The block was dedicated Jane Jacobs Way in honor of the late activist and urban planner who battled Robert Moses. The sign’s message implies that if Jacobs were alive today, she would battle the City’s Rezoning plan.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose district includes the West Village, acknowledged the group’s presence by saying that Jane Jacob’s spirit was alive because her phone has been ringing off the hook about Coney Island. Last week, Save Coney Island made a video featuring Dick Zigun of Coney Island USA urging people to call their City Councilmembers and also call Speaker Quinn and deliver the same message. Save Coney Island is asking the City Council to fix the City’s plan by expanding the acreage for open-air amusements, removing four high-rise towers from the heart of the amusement district and preserving Coney Island’s historic buildings The City Council will vote on the rezoning plan later this month.

Save Coney Island also issued a statement from Jane Jacobs’ son, Ned Jacobs, a community activist in Vancouver, Canada, who assisted his mother with her last book, “Dark Age Ahead.” Ned Jacobs wrote in his statement:

In my view, this rezoning plan for Coney Island does not appear to reflect the urban values and planning principles she espoused. These include sensitivity and integration with the scale, character and performance of existing neighborhoods and their established uses; the need to retain aged but serviceable buildings for the sake of economic diversity and continuity, as well as for their history and charm; the benefits of planning and redevelopment based on organic, iterative change, and the inherent dangers of top-down urban renewal-type schemes, propelled by ‘cataclysmic money.’

“These considerations are just as valid today as in the past. I therefore urge Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council to prevent this dysfunctional, developer-driven proposal for the Coney Island amusement district from being adopted in its current form. Instead, the city should work with the community, who possess much local knowledge and appreciation of the importance that scale, atmosphere and heritage play in the amusement district’s success as an irreplaceable public amenity, and who have expressed considerable openness to change and new development, provided it is based on sound planning.

Helen Pontani, Angie Pontani and Jo Weldon "Save Coney" on Jane Jacobs Way. Photo © Kevin Downs

Helen Pontani, Angie Pontani and Jo Weldon "Save Coney" on Jane Jacobs Way. Photo © Kevin Downs

Helen Pontani, Angie Pontani and Jo Weldon “Save Coney” on Jane Jacobs Way. Photo © Kevin Downs

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