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The changing face of Coney Island

Jill Barshay Aug 15, 2008

The changing face of Coney Island

Jill Barshay Aug 15, 2008


Stacey Vanek-Smith: And if a house in the Hamptons is a bit out of your reach, you can always go to Coney Island. Eat a hot dog, ride the Cyclone. A hundred years ago, Coney Island was a place to see and be seen. It still draws a crowd, but its glory days are over. The amusement park has gone downhill a bit. But now, there’s a multibillion-dollar plan to revitalize Coney Island, as Jill Barshay reports.

Jill Barshay: Dick Zigun personifies Coney Island. The gray-haired 55-year-old has tattoos running up and down both arms. He runs the museum, the annual Mermaid parade, and the burlesque show.

Zigun was a director on the redevelopment board. But he quit a few weeks ago in disgust.

Dick Zigun: The current plan disrespects the history here. You know, he amusement industry was born here. Coney island is the place where the hot dog was invented, soft ice cream, the roller coaster — it all comes from here.

Zigun’s leading protests over City’s move to slash the area designated for amusement rides by nearly half.

Domenic Recchia represents Coney Island on the New York City Council. He says the renewal plan needs to be redrawn to create jobs in his depressed South Brooklyn neighborhood.

Domenic Recchia: We want an all-year round destination and amusement parks today just don’t make money.

The disputed land was recently bought up by a real estate developer called Thor Equities. Right now, the land is zoned for amusement rides only, but Thor wants to change that so it can build hotels, a movie theater, a bowling alley and a Niketown store.

Margaret Tobin is an executive vice president at Thor Equities. She says her company wants to attract visitors of all ages.

Margaret Tobin: We really, truly believe that retail is one of the important mixes there. I know from my nieces, shopping for them is entertainment, and it is amusing.

Tobin worries about relying on tourists exclusively. Building movie theaters and hotel ballrooms to serve locals in South Brooklyn is less risky.

Coney Island’s Zigun says this roller coaster dispute could torpedo the whole revitalization plan.

Zigun: And now they’ve got everybody yelling and screaming, and I’m not sure anything’s going to be passed.

Meanwhile, the last amusement park in Coney Island, Astroland, is slated to close at the end of the 2008 season.

In Coney Island, I’m Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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