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Sleep Inn Hotel Stillwell Avenue

Sleep Inn Hotel nearing completion on Stillwell Ave and Avenue Z. Photo © Diana Baggott

A Sleep Inn Hotel, the Coney Island area’s first new hotel in many decades, is nearing completion at Stillwell Avenue and Avenue Z, just north of Coney Island Creek. Mahesh Ratjani, one of the partners in the project, tells ATZ they hope to open in three months. Under construction since the last quarter of 2013 and originally projected to open by the beginning of 2015, the hotel awaits a certificate of occupancy. According to DOB records, the 12,989 square foot, four-story hotel occupies a 13,000 square foot lot. Sleep Inn is a member of the Choice Hotels Group.

As we noted in a post that was the first to report the new construction in December 2013, there are currently no hotels in the Coney Island area and it’s been many decades since a new one opened. The long-shuttered, 110-year-old Terminal Hotel across from Stillwell Terminal was destroyed by fire last year. The grand Half Moon Hotel, built on the Boardwalk in 1927, was later turned into a geriatric center before being demolished in 1996.

Sleepi-Inn Hotel

The City’s rezoning of Coney Island included the upzoning of three Thor Equities-owned properties on the south side of Surf Avenue between Stillwell and Jones Walk for hotels up to 30 stories. In public hearings, we argued against high rises — including hotels — on the south side of Surf, saying it would destroy instead of enhance Coney Island’s economic potential as an amusement and tourism destination. As it turns out, a hotel has yet to be built on Surf Avenue and we can only hope it never will be. Instead, the Coney Island area’s first new hotel in decades is located in a much more suitable location north of the amusement area with easy access to the Belt Parkway.

Ratjani and his partners own 15 hotels in New York and New Jersey, including the Comfort Inn off the Gowanus Expressway in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. The vacant lot at 2590 Stillwell Avenue was purchased for $1.9 million in 2007, according to Property Shark. The property is conveniently located off the Cropsey Ave/Coney Island exit of the Belt Parkway. The area is technically on the border of Gravesend and Bath Beach, though frequently identified as part of Coney Island. The closest subway stop is Bay 50th, one stop from Coney’s Stillwell Terminal, on the D line.

UPDATE October 25, 2015

Our first report of the new construction, in December 2013, and this one posted last spring, have been appearing in our Top Ten Posts over the past week or so. Sleep Inn Coney Island, as the new hotel is called, finally opened 10 days ago. Rates start at $119 per night and include free breakfast, wi-fi, and other amenities.

Sleep Inn Hotel

Sleep Inn Hotel nearing completion on Stillwell Ave and Avenue Z. Photo © Diana Baggott

Related posts on ATZ…

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

January 21, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Wahlburgers Signage Goes Up at Thor’s Retail Building

January 29, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Subway Cafe, Sushi Lounge, IHOP, Checkers, Johnny Rockets

September 13, 2013: Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round

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Steeplechase Plaza

B&B Carousell Pavilion Under Construction in Steeplechase Plaza, Coney Island. July 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

When the B&B Carousell reopens in Coney Island next season, the restored 1919 ride will spin in a glass pavilion next to the Parachute Jump. The progress of construction on the pavilion and its new home Steeplechase Plaza can be seen in the above photo. Large-scale neon lettering spelling B&B CAROUSELL will encircle the top of the completed pavilion. Coney Island’s last hand-carved carousel was saved from auction in 2005 when the City purchased it for $1.8 million from the McCullough family who operated it on the north side of Surf Avenue since the 1970s.

The Parachute Jump, the sole survivor of Steeplechase Park, is also a focal point of Steeplechase Plaza. The red, yellow and blue sheet metal panels and medallions at the base of the Jump are getting a redo as you can see in the photo below.

Construction at the Base of the Parachute Jump

Construction at the Base of the Parachute Jump. July 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

While fans of the Jump continue to hope that the landmark ride will someday be restored to operation, we don’t see that happening due to liability concerns and high costs. In an article that we wrote for Preservation Magazine in 2002, independent ride engineer and certified safety inspector Ed Pribonic expressed concerns about stress on the structure and the viability of reusing original components. “As a visual icon, it’s probably fine,” he said. “When you’re talking about turning it into an operating amusement ride that carries passengers and is subject to thousands of dynamic load cycles a day, then it becomes a different engineering problem.”

Besides, Coney Island is getting a 2.2 acre public plaza on the old Steeplechase site, not a new Steeplechase Park. According to the NYCEDC’s press release issued at the time of last November’s groundbreaking, the plaza will be the western gateway to the revitalized Coney Island and will be large enough to host a variety of events. For the first time, visitors will be able to walk directly underneath the Parachute Jump and gaze up at the latticework structure from the inside. The landmark will also get a new lighting scheme to “bring the bling to Coney Island,” in the words of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

Parachute Jump Gateway

Artist Rendering of Parachute Jump Gateway. NYC Economic Development Corporation

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August 2, 2012: New Building Breaks Ground Next to Coney Island’s Stillwell Terminal

May 29, 2012: Photo Album: Coney Island Lights & Signs of the Times

February 2, 2012: Thor’s Coney Island: Generic New Building at Surf & Stillwell

December 4, 2011: Brass Ring Dept: Coney Island “Carousell” RFP Up for Grabs

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Lot at 1223 Surf Avenue next to Stillwell Terminal. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

The second new commercial building to be constructed in Coney Island since the rezoning broke ground on the north side of Surf Avenue next door to Stillwell Terminal. “This is a spectacular location for a restaurant or nightclub, broker Joe Vitacco tells ATZ. “We are looking for quality tenants that will add to the growth of Coney Island.” The new building will be across the street from Thor Equities’ new retail-only building on the southeast corner of Surf and Stillwell, on the site of the demolished Henderson Music Hall.

The lot at 1223 Surf Avenue was in the news in December 2010, when we reported that Popeye’s Chicken was offered a lease in the new building for which plans had been filed. Construction was delayed and Popeye’s ended up relocating earlier this year to the Popper Building on the south side of Surf. Says Vitacco, “Finally, after two years of submitting and resubmitting and resubmitting again to the MTA and the Buildings Department, ground was broken for a two story, 15,000 square foot building at 1223 Surf Avenue in Coney Island. The first floor will be 10,000 square feet and the second floor will be 5,000 sq feet with a 2,500 square foot terrace. The second floor will be 22 feet above Surf Avenue with a view of the Atlantic Ocean and Luna Park.”

Plan for Two Story Commercial Building

First Floor: Plan for Two Story Commercial Building 1223 Surf Avenue in Coney Island

The owner of 1223 Surf Avenue, Fox 18 Realty, LLC, purchased the lot from Horace Bullard for $1,344,000 in 2010. The property has been vacant since 2001, when the Giuliani administration repeatedly ticketed and finally got rid of the flea market that had operated on the lot since the 1980s. The headline in the Daily News read “CONEY SMALL BIZ BLITZ STORM OF TICKETS TIED TO DEBUT OF CYCLONES.”

Prior to the flea market, independent rides have come and gone from the lot for as far back as anyone can recall. In the late 1940s and 1950s, the Pinto Brothers, who also manufactured kiddie rides on 8th Street in Coney Island, operated a Whip here and a Crazy Ghost ride nearby. In the 1960s this location was home to McCullough’s Illions carousel, which was moved from Surf and 15th Street, until it was dismantled in 1968. A Sky Rapids water slide, a Jumbo coaster that resembled a Jumbo Jet, and go karts took turns operating there in the 1970s.

Once home to a variety of rides including Bumper cars and the B & B Carousell, the north side of Surf Avenue is now attracting bars, clubs and restaurants. Coney Island Bar & Grill, Tattoo Shot Lounge and the popular Grimaldi’s Pizzeria are the new face of the north side of Surf. At long last, the furniture stores named after amusement parks appear to be on their way out.

Sky Rapids Ride

Sky Rapids Ride at 1223 Surf Avenue, Coney Island January 1, 1979. Photo by Abe Feinstein via Coney Island History Project

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June 23, 2012: Opening Today: Coney Island Grimaldi’s Pizzeria

May 29, 2012: Photo Album: Coney Island Lights & Signs of the Times

February 2, 2012: Thor’s Coney Island: Generic New Building at Surf & Stillwell

October 17, 2011: Popeyes Chicken Returning to Coney Island’s Surf Avenue

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Thor's Coney Island

Thor Equities Building at Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island. February 25, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy. All Rights Reserved

Even though ATZ has been covering the boarding up of Thor Equities new (and first-ever) building in Coney Island, we were shocked by these photos. Is this a glimpse into the future of what we can expect on Joe Sitt’s property in Coney Island? Yes, the building is ugly and out of place, but the plywood just makes a bad situation worse. The blight doubled overnight.

Last time we looked, plywood covered only the Surf Avenue side, but now the entire structure has been boarded up. “Looks like they built a box then flew it in attached to helicopters,” writes photographer Bruce Handy, who shot the photos on Sunday.

What does it look like to you? Hey, let’s have a comment contest! Last time we posted photos of the building, one astute reader wrote, “Sterile is too kind of a description. Thor’s soulless construction is the true definition of urban blight.”

The plywood-encased, suburban mall-like structure is on the southeast corner of Surf and Stillwell, the gateway to Coney’s Beach and Boardwalk as well as Scream Zone’s roller coasters and thrill rides. It’s the first sight visitors see in Coney Island as they exit Stillwell Terminal. The Henderson Music Hall stood on this corner for more than a century until Sitt had it demolished along with two other buildings in 2010, putting an end to Save Coney Island’s efforts to create an historic district.

Thor's Coney Island

Thor Equities Building in Coney Island, view from Bowery and Stillwell February 25, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy. All Rights Reserved

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February 21, 2012: Thor Destroys 119-Year-Old Relics of Coney Trolley History

February 18, 2012: Thor Equities Boards Up New Building in Coney Island

February 5, 2012: Botched Job: Coney Island Art Exiled by Thor Equities

February 2, 2012: Thor’s Coney Island: Generic New Building at Surf & Stillwell

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Boarding up Building

Thor Equities Building at Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island. February 15, 2012. Photo © Eric Kowalsky. All Rights Reserved

On Wednesday, workmen drilled holes into the new sidewalk all around Thor Equities sterile-looking new building at Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island. When poles were inserted close to the structure, observers wondered if they were going to install a chain link fence. Instead, they began installing unpainted plywood all around the building!

The joke going round is Thor CEO Joe Sitt read the bad reviews of his first-ever new construction in Coney Island and felt so ashamed that he tried to hide it from public view. With no sign of any tenants, Thor probably wants to protect the glass from vandalism and graffiti. Last year’s best was “Blight for Spite” scrawled below Thor Equities name and logo.

As for street art, the blue construction fence with murals painted by No Longer Empty artists Ephameron, Veng, OverUnder and ND’A was removed earlier this month. Some of the art turned up in a jumbled reassemblage at another Thor construction site in Bensonhurst. In the photo below, taken on the Bowery side of the Coney Island building, bits and pieces of Ephameron’s mural can be seen. Thanks to Coney Island photographer Eric Kowalsky for being on the scene and snapping these photos.

More than likely the boards will soon be plastered with the “Stores for Lease” signs that have been a fixture on Thor’s vacant property in Coney Island for the past several years. How about commissioning murals to replace the ones that were chopped up and discarded? The building is the first sight you’ll see when you exit Stillwell Terminal. It occupies the site of the century-old Henderson Music Hall, which Thor Equities demolished in 2010.

Boarded up Building

Thor Equities Newly Boarded Up New Building in Coney Island. February 15, 2012. Photo © Eric Kowalsky. All Rights Reserved

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February 5, 2012: Botched Job: Coney Island Art Exiled by Thor Equities

February 2, 2012: Thor’s Coney Island: Generic New Building at Surf & Stillwell

June 1, 2011: Photo Album: Street Art Down by the Coney Island Bowery

April 15, 2011: Photo Album: Whimsical Murals Blossom in Coney Island

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Coney Island building

Exiting Stillwell Terminal in the new Coney Island, the first sight one sees is Thor Equities generic looking new building. January 29, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

What’s the opposite of “Ta Da”? After seven years of real estate speculation and many grandiose renderings, the construction fencing came down from Thor Equities first-ever new construction in Coney Island (flea market tents don’t count) to reveal a sterile-looking building suited for a suburban mall. It’s located on the southeast corner of Surf and Stillwell, the gateway to Coney’s Beach and Boardwalk as well as Scream Zone’s roller coasters and thrill rides.

The generic new building is the first sight visitors see in Coney Island as they exit Stillwell Terminal. We’d be surprised if it contains any rides, arcades or carny games. During the construction, Thor Equities had a sign atop the fence touting “CONEY ISLAND – The RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME – for leasing contact…”

DNALSI YENOC

View from DNALSI YENOC of Thor Equities New Building. January 29, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The building has yet to sport any signs of tenants, but the Coney Island Rumor Mill has been saying for months that a Johnny Rockets (“The Original Hamburger,” founded in 1986 in L.A.) is coming to the Surf Avenue side. Hat retailer Lids–too bad it’s not the quirky Susquehanna Hat Company that HBO’s Bored to Death brought to Jones Walk/Bagel Street–is rumored for one of the stores. If it’s true, we’ll find out soon enough: Coney Island’s opening day is just two months away. Memorial Day is in four months. What would you like to see on this corner across the street from the iconic Nathan’s Famous?

Coney Island building

Thor's Coney Island: Stillwell Avenue side of Joe Sitt's sterile and suburban looking new building in the new Coney Island. January 29, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

It’s not as if we expected a Freakenspiel carousel and water fountain topped by a pyrotechnic elephant. That concept was part of Joe Sitt’s grandiose pitch back in 2005. Just for fun, check out the “Coney Island Rendering Hit Parade Pop Quiz,” a 2007 post by Brooklyn’s Blogfather Bob Guskind on the real estate blog Curbed. A lot has changed in the seven years since the real estate speculator began buying up property in Coney Island’s amusement zone. Sitt’s new building was reportedly built with a foundation suitable for a much taller structure. The site was one of four on the south side of Surf rezoned by the City in 2009 for a 30-story hotel.

The Henderson Music Hall stood on this corner for more than a century until Sitt had it demolished along with two other buildings in 2010, putting an end to Save Coney Island’s efforts to create an historic district. The Henderson was the longtime home of Popeye’s Chicken, the Fascination video game arcade, Velocity Nightclub and amusement games like Shoot Out the Star (open year round!), Clown Water Race and Balloon Dart. All lost their leases or were evicted. The old tenants are not expected to return to the new building, where rents are said to be over $100 per square foot, according to the rumor mill. Popeye’s found a new space a few doors down in the Popper Building for one third the price of what Thor was said to have asked for the equivalent of their former space.

Thinkwell rendering

Thinkwell's rendering for Thor's Temporary One-Story Building in Coney Island. April 2010. Via The New York Observer

In April 2010, Thor Equities released this rendering of a cheesy looking temporary one-story building occupied by hamburger and taco food joints. And a statement: “With the work we are commencing today, by Memorial Day, 2011, all of our parcels along Surf Avenue are scheduled to be activated with family-friendly games, food, shopping and other activities that visitors to, and residents of, Coney are clamoring for….”

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

September 9, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Faber’s Fascination Goes Dark After 50 Years

April 29, 2010: Photo of the Day: Interior of Coney Island’s Doomed Henderson Music Hall

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

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New View

After the Demolition: New View of Surf Ave in Coney Island. February 11, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In the words of T.S. Eliot: “April is the cruellest month…” Last April, Joe Sitt of Thor Equities announced plans to demolish the buildings he owned along Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Now when visitors step out of Stillwell Terminal, their first glimpse of Coney Island will be the blue construction fence surrounding Joe Sitt’s Wasteland–the newest empty lot in the real-estate speculator’s collection of empty lots. The temporary one-story building that Sitt filed a variety of plans to build beginning in October has yet to break ground because the DOB “DISAPPROVED” the plans as many as 16 times over the past six months.

Surf and Stillwell was the site of the now-demolished, century-old Henderson Music Hall. The Henderson had survived being cut in half in the 1920s to make way for the widening of Stillwell Avenue. When the City rezoned the parcel for a high-rise “hotel” in July 2009, the historic building was doomed, even though no hotel is scheduled to be built there anytime soon. At the end of the 2010 season, longtime tenants Popeye’s Chicken, Fascination Arcade and Maritza’s Souvenirs were booted out and haven’t been heard from since.

Thor’s proposed construction is a “ONE STORY NEW COMMERCIAL BUILDING WITH ASSEMBLY AND AMUSEMENT SPACES AS INDICATED ON PLANS FILED HEREWITH.” If you look under “plan examination” you’ll see that they have filed for a variety of types of permits (equipment, new building, general construction, foundation & earthworks, fencing) with a corresponding number of disapprovals for each.

Coney Island

Post No Bills: Thor Equities Empty Lot at Corner of Surf & Stillwell, Coney Island. February 28, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

As shown under “all permits,” they have applied for and been issued permits for Foundations, Earthwork, and a Construction Fence in connection with the project. This will allow them to do the excavation and pour the foundations for the job, even while the New Building and other applications remain disapproved.

Last April, Thor Equities released a rendering of a cheesy looking temporary one-story building occupied by hamburger and taco food joints. And a statement: “With the work we are commencing today, by Memorial Day, 2011, all of our parcels along Surf Avenue are scheduled to be activated with family-friendly games, food, shopping and other activities that visitors to, and residents of, Coney are clamoring for….”

Thinkwell rendering

Thinkwell's rendering for Thor's Temporary One-Story Building in Coney Island. April 2010

When we first read about Thor’s plan and saw the rendering in Eliot Brown’s piece in the Observer–”The New Coney Island? Sitt Sees Fast Food in Place of Current Buildings”–we thought Thinkwell, a well-known firm in the themed entertainment industry, should be renamed Thinkworst for creating this crappy rendering for the gateway to Coney Island. Thor’s plan to get demo permits from the City seemed calculated to put an end to Save Coney Island’s efforts to create an historic district in Coney Island.

Coney Island

Joe Sitt's Newest Empty Lot (Site of Demolished Henderson Building), Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Last April, ATZ complained about “Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents and Deathwatch for Historic Buildings” (ATZ, April 21, 2010). The bedraggled tenting was removed and the City put up fence wraps with colorful advertisements for Coney attractions to camouflage the empty lots. We’re curious to see what kind of bills if any will be posted on Thor’s blue construction fence. Posters for Aqueduct Flea by the Sea?

UPDATE April 4, 2011:

Some readers have questioned whether Thor Equities ever really intended to build anything on the site. Were the building plans just an excuse to get a permit to demolish the Henderson? Why didn’t Thor’s architects resubmit a plan that would win DOB approval? Six months of disapprovals seems like an inordinately long time.

ATZ asked someone in the building trade to take a look at the DOB page and give an opinion. Here it is: it IS strange that they had so many disapprovals for what seems like such a simple building, and i have to think that if they are proceeding with foundations, they either think they are about to get the new building application approved, or they are sensing some change in the regulatory environment and want to get the foundations in so that they can claim to be “vested”. who knows what that would be in this case, but does seem like a lot of trouble to go thru for a one story building (am sure they’re thinking the same thing).

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December 20, 2010: Displaced Queens Flea Vendors Eye Coney Island’s Vacant Lots

September 24, 2010: Coney Island Cat Is Last Tenant of Henderson Building

April 21, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings

June 7, 2010: Fence Wrap Advertising Comes to Coney Island’s Stillwell Avenue

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