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Canarsie DigestOriginal Article »
August 20, 2007
Is there still a chance for Astroland to abort its final countdown to September 9?
That’s when the 45-year-old amusement park’s lease expires and it’s scheduled to burn out forever. But many in Coney Island hope that a decision by Astroland’s owners to stop the sale of most of their rides means that 2007 might not be the last go ‘round after all.
“The ownership was requested by the employees to pull the rides off the market to buy some time to see what might happen over the next few weeks and the Alpert family agreed,” said Joe Carella, spokesperson for the former Astroland owners.
The Alpert family – owners of Astroland since 1962 – sold the amusement park at 1000 Surf Avenue to Thor Equities last November but still retain ownership of both the rides and the Cylcone roller coaster on West 10th Street.
Together the Alperts employ anywhere from 200 to 400 workers at the height of the amusement park season.
Tammy Nazarete of Rides-4-U, Inc. – brokers of amusement park rides based in Somerville, New Jersey – said that the Alperts’ decision to pull their rides off the market came just within the last two weeks.
“They’ve done that a few times,” Nazarete said. “I think they are really unsure of what they’re doing.”
According to Carella, the Alpert family hopes it can score another lease that will keep Astroland on Surf Avenue at least through the 2008 season.
Thor Equities principal Joe Sitt and the City of New York are embroiled in a high-stakes game of chicken over the redevelopment of Coney Island.
Sitt wants favorable zoning changes that will allow him to build some form of housing inside the amusement district.
The Coney Island Development Corporation – the city entity created to stewart the redevelopment – has steadfastly held to its stated goal of keeping the amusement district stricly for rides only.
CIDC members recently scouted out amusement parks overseas and there has even been talk of seizing Thor property’s through eminent domain.
Nevertheless, City Councilmember Domenic Recchia told this newspaper that negotiations with Thor Equities are indeed underway that might allow Astroland to remain in Coney Island beyond the current season.
“There is hope,” Recchia said. “We thought we had a deal two months ago, but it fell apart.”
Community Board 13 District Manager Chuck Reichenthal said that until Astroland breathes its last breath there will be hope that the amusement park can survive a little bit longer.
“We all hope that there is work and discussion is going on,” he said.
Brian Gotlieb, former Community Board 13 chair and candidate to succeed Recchia in the 47th Councilmanic District, has started an online petition drive at www.saveastroland.com to help keep Astroland open.
“While change may be inevitable, there is no need to rush Astroland’s passage into history,” Gotlieb said. “Until plans for its successor are finalized, Astroland should remain open and continue to serve the community and millions of happy visitors as it helps create countless priceless memories of Coney Island.”
Thor Equities would not comment on the possibility of Astroland extending its run beyond the 2007 season, but spokesman Lee Silberstein said that the developers were “committed to ensuring that Coney Island remains active and enlivened during the transition.”
In its 13 years in business Rides-4-U, Inc. has brokered deals involving everything from carousels to complete park liquidations.
According to Nazarete, the whole amusement park industry is “evolving” and other seaside amusement parks like those found in places like Panama City, Florida and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina are fast becoming a thing of the past.
“The land is so valuable people are selling – that’s the trend,” she said.
Recchia fears Astroland going the way of Steeplechase Park and what that could mean to Coney Island.
“We have to make sure that Coney Island is not left deserted,” he said.
Silberstein said that Thor Equities-sponsored events like the recent Cole Brothers Circus and the free outdoor movie series on Stillwell Avenue were in-part “inspired by Domenic Recchia’s vision that Thor be responsible for enlivening the area.”
The small number of people who turned out for the first night of Thor Equities’ free outdoor movies on Stillwell Avenue last week seemed reticent about Sitt’s plans to re-imagine Coney Island as a glitzy, year-round Vegas-styled theme park – especially if they have to pay more than the $4 it now costs to enjoy rides like the Break Dance.
“That’s a bad, bad plan,” said Roody Dorfeuille of Crown Heights.
Many wonder about Sitt’s motives in seeking a zoning change.
Carella said the Alpert family “certainly wants to see the amusement zone preserved.”
The Alpert family will continue to operate the 80-year-old landmark Cyclone roller-coaster regardless of Astroland’s ultimate fate.
“A lot of it is basically hope that Astroland will have a home for next year,” Carella said. “There’s been nothing definite, but that could change.”
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