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If you think “Ciao” means only hello or goodbye, we have news for you:  In NYCEDC (New York Economic Development Corporation) acronymese, CIAO stands for Coney Island Amusement Operator in the RFP (Request for Proposals) for a 10 year lease of the City’s newly purchased 6.9 acres in the People’s Playground. Today is the deadline for responses to the RFP and we’re set to be thrilled by the zillion dollar ride line up of the decade! Our guess is the successful bidder will be a team that not only has experience in park operations but also includes a top carnival  and a ride manufacturer with coaster creds.  Oh, and did we mention access to capital? But don’t expect to find out who gets to put in Coney Island’s interim midway–it’s the equivalent of a mega state fair contract– until early 2010.

In the meantime, ATZ took a look at some of the questions potential CIAO’s have asked about the RFP and Coney Island in general, and the NYCEDC’s replies, for clues to the future. Will the oldies but goodies in the City owned Boardwalk properties like Ruby’s, Cha Cha’s, Shoot the Freak and the historic Astrotower get a new 10 year lease on life? Or will it be out with the old, in with the new starting in 2011?

View from Cha Chas

Coney Island, View from Cha Cha's Rooftop on Siren Day 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Free Rent In Coney Island?!

The full set of Q & A’s posted on the RFP site covered necessary stuff like electrical power to the sites, restrooms, lighting, fencing, security and rubbish removal, all of which the CIAO is expected to provide in addition to the rides and attractions. The site turnover date is April 15, 2010, leaving the operator only 6 weeks till Memorial Day to install everything and obtain the necessary permits and inspections. In 2010, the City will spend $2.2 million out of a total of $6.6 million in public funds on site improvements. What about the rent?

Q:  In the RFP, you mentioned terms including “free rent” and percentages.  Can you explain what is meant by these terms?

A:  Given the compressed timeline and the intermediate lease term offered, NYCEDC intends to be as flexible as possible in accommodating the needs of the operator.  Therefore, a variety of rent schedules and structures, which may or may not include percentage rent, base rent or free rent, will be considered.

Lotsa Interest in the Boardwalk Businesses

More revealing about the shape of things to come in Coney are the Q & A’s about the Boardwalk businesses, the Astrotower, and even the Astroland Rocket.

Q: What businesses are located on the Boardwalk? Do you have contact information?

A: The businesses currently located on the Boardwalk within the boundaries of Parcels A, B, and C are, from East to West: Paul’s Daughter, Pio Pio Rico, Gyro Corner, Coney Island Souvenirs, Ruby’s Bar and Grill, Shoot the Freak, Cha-Cha’s, Nathan’s Famous, Beer Island. Additional information for businesses in Coney Island can be found at www.coneyislandfunguide.com.

Ruby's Bar & Grill

Ruby's Bar & Grill, Coney Island. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

The City has already offered one year leases for 2010 to the mom-and-pop businesses occupying the Boardwalk property formerly owned by Thor Equities. Lola Staar Boutique, which was evicted by Thor, was asked to return as well. But will they be back in 2011? It’s clear from the Q & A’s that some of the potential CIAO’s are very interested in the revenue generating potential of the bars and the Boardwalk property. It would be a sorry day if Coney Island mainstays Ruby’s, Cha Cha’s, Shoot the Freak and the other small businesses are “pratted out” (as we say in the carnival biz) after having survived the dark days of Thor.

Before the RFP release, Shoot the Freak’s Anthony Berlingieri made headlines when he appeared at the City’s press conference on the land buy and posed the question directly to Mayor Bloomberg: “Is there a place for us?” NYCEDC President Seth Pinsky gave a diplomatic reply: “Our intention is for the foreseeable future to keep all the tenants in place, certainly through next summer. And we’re going to be looking to work with each of you to figure out where it makes sense for the various tenants to remain as we build out the amusement park.”

More from the Coney Island RFP Q & A’s related to Boardwalk Businesses

Q: What is going to happen with the Boardwalk tenants in both the short term and throughout the lease period? Can responses to the RFP include those businesses and the space along the boardwalk?

A: For Year 1 of operations (the Summer 2010 season), NYCEDC intends to enter into one-year licenses directly with the Boardwalk businesses. Beginning in Year 2 of operations, Respondents may propose to include or exclude these businesses and structures from their proposals.

Q: What is the current rent from these tenants?

A: While we cannot share information on individual licenses at this time, we can report that in the past, the gross potential rent for the Boardwalk tenants was approximately $750,000 to $900,000.

Shoot the Freak

Shoot the Freak on Fourth of July. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Q: Do the Boardwalk tenants have liquor licenses? Do these remain with the tenant or the structure?

A: Several of the businesses on the Boardwalk maintain liquor licenses with the New York State Liquor Authority (“SLA”). Most of the active licenses are seasonal (for a term of seven months) and are renewed annually. The process for the “transfer” of a license at an existing premises to a new business as well as other details regarding liquor licenses is available at the website of the SLA: http://www.abc.state.ny.us.

Q: Can the Boardwalk businesses make use of the Boardwalk?

A: Yes, businesses are generally permitted to occupy approximately 20 feet of the Boardwalk in front of the business premises with tables and chairs. Such use of the Boardwalk requires approval by and an annual fee paid to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

According to the Coney Island RFP, “Responses to this RFP should articulate whether they include or exclude these structures or footprints, beginning at the earliest in Year 2 of operations.”  But it also says “The Selected Respondent may propose to include subtenants for portions of their proposed operations, but such subtenants, and such subtenant agreements, shall be subject to NYCEDC approval.”  In other words, the City, which owns the property, has final say over which businesses come or go.

While the RFP encourages a plan for Minority/Women Business Enterprises (M/WBE) and local hiring, there’s no mention of protection for small businesses in general. In fact, the buildings could be demolished and the tenants displaced. Will the Boardwalk end up looking like the rest of New York City–out with the mom and pops, in with the formula businesses and chain restaurants? We hope not. But the Bloomberg adminstration’s opposition to Councilman Jackson’s proposed Small Business Survival Act, which has enough support to pass in the City Council, does not make us feel optimistic.

Astrotower. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Astrotower. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Astrotower

Despite the closing of Astroland and the fact that the Astrotower hasn’t operated as a ride for two years, Bruce Handy‘s photo gives us a hopeful feeling. We can imagine buds and then leaves on the tree and the Tower still standing tall. The Municipal Art Society and Save Coney Island say the structure is eligible for the State and National Registers. We hope the Astrotower will be a survivor like Steeplechase’s Parachute Jump.

Q: What are the future plans for the Astrotower? Could the operator choose to reactivate the Astrotower? Could the operator choose to remove the Astrotower from the site?

A: Respondents should include in their proposal how they will address the Astrotower. Reactivating the tower or removing it are both among the potential options.

Q: Do you have any drawings of the Astrotower? Can NYCEDC provide dimensions? Can NYCEDC provide the name of the manufacturer?

A. It is our understanding that the Astrotower was manufactured by the Swiss company Von Roll and installed in 1964. Von Roll was purchased by Doppelmayr Garaventa Group (www.doppelmayrctec.com) in 1996. The tower is approximately 260’ high.

Astroland Rocket

Jan 28, 2009 - Astroland Rocket in Aquarium Parking Lot ready to Go to Homeport Storage facility in Staten Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/Coney Island History Project

Astroland Rocket

When we look at this photo of the Rocket with the Cyclone, Tower and Wonder Wheel in the background, we can just imagine how wonderful it will be when the Rocket rejoins these landmarks in the new Coney Island. We hope the Tower will be there too!

Q: The City saved the Astroland Rocket last year. Will it return as a part of the new amusement park?

A: The City of New York accepted a donation in January 2009 of the Astroland Rocket, a 71-foot long 12,000 pound rocket ship flight simulator that was among the original rides at Astroland when the park opened in the 1960s. The Rocket is currently in an NYCEDC storage facility. NYCEDC anticipates discussing potential locations for the Rocket with the Selected Respondent following designation, although Respondents are welcome to propose a use for the Rocket in their proposals if they so choose.

The potential CIAO’s also had questions about adjacent property, asking for contact information  for “the owner of the lot immediately to the East of Keyspan Park” (Horace Bullard) and the “owner of the lots immediately north of Parcels B and C, south of the Bowery” (Thor Equities). If we’re lucky, the spillover of applicants for the RFP will fill Sitt’s and Bullard’s empty lots with amusements this summer.

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November 25, 2009: Photo Album: Coney Island Shines at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009 in Vegas

November 23, 2009: The Contenders from A to Z: Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP

May 29, 2009: At Cha-Cha’s of Coney Island, Squidling Rhymes with Ringling

May 17, 2009: Joe Sitt’s No Show Rides

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At the IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009 in Las Vegas, the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) hosted an information session regarding the City's RFP for a development contract.  Photo © Charles Denson

At the IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009 in Las Vegas, the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) hosted an information session regarding the City

Who is bidding on the RFP (Request for Proposals) to bring amusements to the City of New York’s soon-to-be-purchased 6.9 acres in Coney Island? It’s more like—who isn’t bidding? The contenders are quite literally from A for Astroland and Amusements of America to Z for Zamperla.

At last week’s IAAPA Attractions Expo in Vegas, amusement park and carnival operators and ride manufacturers were busy forming alliances and putting together proposals for the Astroland site (Parcel A) and Boardwalk properties (Parcels B and C). The City is offering up to a 10 year lease to a single operator or a team to develop what CIDC president Lynn Kelly described as “a new park that feels like Coney Island—it can’t be any cookie-cutter establishment.” The stakes are high: The person or team who pulls this off successfully is likely to be the top candidate ten years in the future for the RFP to operate the proposed 12-acre “Permanent Amusement Park” in Coney Island.

Parcels A, B & C Are Up for Bid. Detail of the CIDC’s Map of the Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP Sites.  Credit: Coney Island Development Corporation

Parcels A, B & C Are Up for Bid. Detail of the CIDC’s Map of the Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP Sites. Credit: Coney Island Development Corporation

Most Likely To Succeed? The A’s and the Z

A is for Amusements of America, the Vivona family’s traveling carnival, which advertises itself as “America’s Most Imaginative Midway.” Based in New Jersey with winter quarters in South Carolina, A of A has been in negotiations with Joe Sitt since August to bring rides and attractions to Coney Island in 2010. The Vivonas made their first of two or three site visits to Coney Island when Thor Equities’ Dreamland Park and flea market were still open for business.

Asked if they’d apply for the Coney Island RFP, Amusement of America’s Dominic Vivona told ATZ, “”We’ve got our hat in the ring and we’re hoping we’ll get picked. So is everybody else.” As for the rumor they’re set to lease what remains of Sitt’s property on Stillwell and Surf: “It might happen. But nothing’s happening now,” said Vivona. Then he added: “We’re interested in going to Coney Island, whether it’s with the City or someone else.”

Amusements of America was founded in 1940 with the purchase of the Ferris Wheel from the 1939 World’s Fair and now has a mighty arsenal of rides. The Vivona’s route stretches from the Ohio State Fair to winter dates in the Caribbean. Among their innovations is one of the first traveling schools for children whose parents work with the carnival. If you’ve been to the State Fair Meadowlands in New Jersey, which boasts “over 150 rides and attractions,” you’ve been to Amusements of America’s midway. Will A of A send their Crazy Mouse coaster to Coney Island for the season?

Astroland's Iconic Sign at Night. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Astroland's Iconic Sign at Night. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

A is for Astroland, the hometown favorite, and for Carol Albert, the longtime operator of Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster and co-sponsor of the Friday night fireworks. The public perception is that Astroland is Coney Island and the City’s purchase of the former Astroland site assures the return of the beloved park. Astroland was founded by Albert’s father-in-law Dewey Albert in 1962. In 1987, on the 25th anniversary of Astroland, the New York Post hailed the Alberts as “the family that keeps Coney Island rolling,” adding that while so much of Coney Island had burned down or was in decay, the Alberts kept the Cyclone running and kept expanding the park. By way of explanation, Dewey’s son Jerome Albert told the reporter, “We have sand in our shoes.”

When we first met Carol Albert in 2004 to interview her for a story about Astroland for IAAPA’s Funworld Magazine, we learned that before Albert began managing the family owned park, she had a successful career as a novelist and editor in chief. Our favorite Carol Albert quote in the story is “I think the amusement business engages a lot of the same sensibilities as the literary field. I mean it helps if you’re a close observer of people and what they like.”

Albert has been working for some time on plans for a futuristic Astroland Park featuring a majority of new rides. It makes us think about George C. Tilyou building a bigger, better Steeplechase after his first park was damaged by a fire. The second Steeplechase captured people’s imagination with its new steel and glass Pavilion of Fun, unique rides like the Human Pool Table, an array of carousels, and a longer and improved Steeplechase ride. The second Astroland’s new rides and attractions would be a potent symbol of the rebirth of Coney Island. At the same time, we yearn for the return of the iconic Surf Avenue gate and the demon from Dante’s Inferno.

Ride manufacturer Zamperla's booth at the IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009 in Las Vegas. Photo © Charles Denson

Ride manufacturer Zamperla's booth at the IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009 in Las Vegas. Photo © Charles Denson

Z is for the international ride manufacturer Zamperla, which operates Victorian Gardens in New York’s Central Park as well as its own amusement park in Italy. According to “MinitaliaLeolandia – Zamperla’s New Showroom!” in the July issue of Park World, the company took a stake in a park 90 minutes from their factory to showcase their rides and now two thirds of the park’s major attractions are Zamperla-built. Alberto Zamperla told Park World: “First of all, my family used to be ride operators. Zamperla is one of the most innovative companies in the business and we have come up with many new rides in recent years. To have all these new rides not far away from the factory, it’s a great thing. The park also benefits because it gets new rides on the market that no on else has; there is a very good synergy.” Will Coney Island’s new amusement park become a showroom for Zamperla’s New Jersey-based North American operation?

Zamperla’s website has 80 rides including some of our favorite kiddie rides as well as thrill rides: the Power Surge, Disk’O Coaster and Surf’s Up. The Vertical Swing is Zamperla’s version of the Star Flyer ride featured in the CIDC’s original renderings. The Coney Island Rumor Mill got wind of Zamperla’s interest in Coney Island this summer. The idea was the company would try out prototypes in Coney Island, an exciting prospect that calls to mind the heyday of Coney when the first models of any new rides would come here. But there wasn’t much point in speculating about it until the City announced the $100M land buy on Nov 11, one week after the re-election of Mayor Bloomberg. ATZ’s sources at the IAAPA show confirmed that Zamperla is indeed a contender.

Zamperla Rockin' Tug at McCullough's Kiddie Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Zamperla Rockin' Tug at McCullough's Kiddie Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Zamperla, whose CEO of their US division is on the CIDC’s Amusement Advisory Board, is considered the front runner by other potential bidders. Some of them were saying “done deal” due to the short time frame and terms of the RFP. But a number of other CIDC Amusement Advisory Board members are rumored to be fielding their own proposals. Notable among them is Board Chair Jim Seay of Premier Rides, a coaster manufacturer. A reread of the EDC’s original press release from March 2009 confirms that these experts were invited to “help structure and expedite the City’s plans for interim amusements at Coney Island in Summer 2010. The panel will also assist the City in continued planning efforts for a permanent amusement operation and development of a 27-acre amusement and entertainment district at Coney Island.” Foot in door? Definitely. Done deal? We’ll find out who won soon enough. The RFP deadline is December 18. In mid-December, the NYCEDC “selects a short list of respondents and sends draft lease for respondent review.” The final selection will be made in January 2010.

Other members of the Coney Island Amusement Advisory Panel are Chip Cleary, Senior VP, Palace Entertainment and First Vice Chair, IAAPA Executive Board; Jim Pattison, President, Ripley Entertainment, Inc.; Tony Catanoso, President & CEO, Atlantic City Steel Pier; Nikki Nolan, Executive VP & Managing Director of International, Great Wolf Resorts; David Rockwell, Founder and CEO, Rockwell Group; Valerio Ferrari, President & CEO, Zamperla USA; Kieran E. Burke, former Chairman and CEO of Six Flags, Inc.; Al Weber, Management Affiliate, MidOcean Partners and former President & CEO, Palace Entertainment; Will Morey and Jack Morey, Co-Owners, The Morey Organization.

It’s more like—who isn’t bidding?

C is for current, former and wannabe Coney Island operators who are reported to be bidding on Parcel B to replace the lost batting cages and go karts, which were bulldozed by Joe Sitt when he acquired the land from Hy Singer. Since the RFP favors a single operator for all three parcels, we have to wonder if they’ve teamed up with operators bidding on the other two lots?

Geren Rides' Reverchon Himalaya at Dreamland Park, Coney Island. Labor Day Weekend 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Geren Rides' Reverchon Himalaya at Dreamland Park, Coney Island. Labor Day Weekend 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

D is for three separate bidders associated with two different Dreamlands. We just want to clarify that this trio of Dreamlanders has no connection whatsoever with Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink or the recently rediscovered Dreamland Bell! The proliferation of Dreamlands was inspired by Coney’s original Dreamland Park (1904-1911).

Anthony Raffaele, who operated Dreamland Park on Thor Equities’ property in 2009 is said to be applying. Glenn Geren, who owned the majority of rides at Thor’s Dreamland in 2008 and 2009 told ATZ “I will definitely apply.” Before Joe Sitt shuttered Dreamland and sold the property to the city, Geren completed purchase of a Reverchon Himalaya, a Schwarzkopf Wildcat Coaster and other rides with the intention of bringing them to Coney Island in 2010. Bob DeStefano’s Dreamland Amusements, a Long Island-based carnival that has no association whatsoever with Thor Equities’ Dreamland is reportedly preparing a bid as well.

We know some potential bidders are being secretive or cagey, so we’ll keep their names a secret for now. With 14,700 VIP registrants at the IAAPA Attractions Expo and the Coney Island Development Corporation’s high visibility as a Silver Sponsor, we’re pretty sure there are other bidders who aren’t on our radar. This makes it hard to predict who will end up getting the job. We’re just thrilled that it looks like it’s going to be a Happy New Year for Coney Island’s amusement area and we’re going to be getting a lot of new rides and attractions starting Memorial Day 2010. We can’t wait till ATZ readers stop asking the question “Is Coney Island closed?”

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January 26, 2010: Scoop: Zamperla’s $24M Coney Island Park to be Named Luna Park!

December 18, 2009: Ciao Coney Island! Will Ruby’s, Shoot the Freak, Astrotower & Other Oldies Survive?

November 25, 2009: Photo Album: Coney Island Shines at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009 in Vegas

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