Coney Island ‘is coming back, big time’

This artist's rendering provided by the New York City Economic Development Corporation shows a view of the proposed new Luna Park in the Brooklyn's Coney Island neighborhood.
This artist's rendering provided by the New York City Economic Development Corporation shows a view of the proposed new Luna Park in the Brooklyn's Coney Island neighborhood.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

State-of-the-art new rides including a roller coaster and a pendulum will open this summer at Coney Island to jump-start the resurgence of the famed Brooklyn amusement park, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday.

"Coney Island is coming back, big time," Bloomberg said at a news conference near the boardwalk where the decades-old Astroland rides were dismantled in 2008.

The new rides are being created by Zamperla, the world's leading manufacturer of mechanical rides, based in Altavilla Vicentina, Italy.

Luna Park at Coney Island will open on Memorial Day weekend with 19 rides. Among them will be the Air Race, which sends riders swinging and soaring around a control tower. It will be the ride's global debut.

Also promised are games, live entertainment, and concessions including Nathan's Famous hot dog stand, which opened in 1916, pioneering America's concept of fast food.

By the summer of 2011, Scream Zone at Coney Island will offer two roller coasters, go-carts and a human slingshot launching people more than 200 feet into the air.

Central Amusement International of Parsippany, N.J., is investing about $30 million to build and operate the park. The company signed a 10-year lease for about 6 acres of land including the former Astroland site, paying the city $1 million plus part of gross receipts.

"We will have rides that will flip you, turn you, launch you, drop you, splash you and make the mayor want to lose his lunch," said David Galst, a CAI spokesman.

Coney Island's Dreamland amusement park in 1904.A. Loeffler / Library Of Congres

Not all of Coney Island's old amusements were scrapped.

The 1920s Cyclone roller coaster is landmarked, as is Deno's Wonder Wheel. Both will continue to be operated by their current management.

Deno Vourderis, whose family owns the Wonder Wheel, said the Ferris wheel that opened in 1920 will be updated with solar panels on its cars and retrofitted with a lighting configuration resembling the original one.

The city bought 6.9 acres of Coney Island property in November from developer Joe Sitt for $95.6 million.

That followed years of wrangling between the city and Sitt, whose vision for Coney Island was not in line with Bloomberg's.

Sitt, who still owns about as many Coney Island acres as the city, released a statement Tuesday saying his firm is "beyond pleased" by plans for this summer and is "looking forward to ... working shoulder to shoulder with the city."

The mayor, who won a third term in November, has touted the renewal of Brooklyn beachfront as part of his political and economic agenda.

"Coney Island remains one of the most known and beloved neighborhoods around the world, but for decades its famed amusement park has dwindled to just a tiny fraction of what it once was," the mayor said.

Once dubbed the People's Playground, the peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean drew working-class Americans for more than a century with its tacky splendor and low-cost fun.

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 12: The historic Wonder Wheel stands at the Coney Island amusement park November 12, 2009 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. After years of blight, city officials have agreed to purchase seven acres of real estate in Coney Island for around $96 million in order to expand and modernize the amusement area. The area has been deteriorating for decades following an earlier heralded era with seaside luxury hotels where the roller coaster and hot dog were invented. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)Mario Tama / Getty Images North America

But in recent decades, while visitors crowded the boardwalk, scarfing down fast food and letting out screams on thrill rides, life for many of Coney Island's 65,000 residents had become a drug-fueled hell amid a double-digit unemployment rate, crumbling housing and a skyrocketing crime rate.

Seth W. Pinsky, president of the city's Economic Development Corp. that spearheaded the Coney Island project, said he expects this summer's activities to reverse "years of decline and disinvestment."

Plans are in place to turn the run-down beachfront into a 27-acre, year-round amusement and entertainment district with restaurants, movie theaters, retail stores and hotels aimed at tourists.

Officials said the park will create 330 jobs by 2011, with emphasis on local hiring. In coming years, the rest of the revival is expected to generate more than 25,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent ones, along with billions of dollars in economic activity.

The city has promised to invest about $6.5 million toward improving the neighborhood's rotting infrastructure in preparation for building more than 5,000 housing units, including 900 affordable ones.

The May opening of Luna Park is to be toasted with a new beer called the Coney Island Luna Lager, made by the San Francisco-based Shmaltz Brewing Co.

City Councilman Domenic Recchia, who represents Coney Island, called the renewal "a dream come true."