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Wonder Wheel Land Sold To Developer Thor Equities

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Original Article »

July 13, 2007

CONEY ISLAND — Thor Equities is in contract to purchase some of the land occupied by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park for $11 million, according to sources. If the deal goes through, Thor Equities would own nearly all of the property in Coney Island’s amusement district, where CEO Joseph Sitt has been floating plans to build high-rise hotels, time shares, a new amusement park to replace Astroland and an indoor water park.

The Vourderis family owns Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, but not the land beneath the kiddie rides and Jones Walk, lined with carnival-like amusements, which they lease from Ward Realty. Dennis Vourderis said he was notified last month that he had 30 days to beat Thor’s offer of $11 million for the land as a condition on his lease, and that 30 days has expired.

“I saw it coming,” said Vourderis. “The notice was just a formality.”

Vourderis still owns the land under the Wonder Wheel itself and said he doesn’t plan on selling. Within the past few years, he said he even offered to buy the land from the Ward family. “We offered $4 million a while back, and I was told it wasn’t for sale.”

Coney Island historian Charles Denson said, “Thor makes people an offer they can’t refuse. [The land is part of] a family trust, [the Wards] have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.”

Unlike Astroland, which is on land Thor bought for $30 million and could close permanently at the end of the summer, Vourderis said his lease is good for 13 more years.

“For me, it doesn’t matter who I cut my rent checks to, whether it be Thor Equities or Ward Realty, it makes the same difference to me,” said Vourderis. He said he didn’t know why the developer would want to buy land that couldn’t be developed until 2020.

“Maybe to collect rent? I don’t know. He’s buying up everything else in Coney Island, why not this? This is the heart of Coney Island,” said Vourderis.

Denson said he thinks the developer will offer to buy Vourderis’ lease and the remaining land the family owns next, creating a solid, four-block footprint that could be left vacant until the city gives in and rezones the land to allow the high rises Thor has been asking for.

The miniature golf course, go-cart track, rock climbing wall and batting cage that once lined Stillwell Avenue were all family-owned businesses bought out, then closed down, by Joseph Sitt, who is president and CEO of Thor Equities.

“If Thor offered Dennis $11 million for the lease, Dennis would take it in a second,” said Denson, who knows most of the families who have operated humble amusements in the neighborhoods over the decades. “He offers people so much money they can’t refuse.”

Representatives of Thor Equities declined to comment, and members of the Ward family did not answer calls.

The Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone, owned by the city, are both protected by landmark status and can’t be altered without city consent or demolished.

The pending sale was first reported Friday in the Bay News.

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