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Many See Problems With New Vision of Coney Island

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On paper the Coney Island Development Corporation’s draft proposal to revamp and revitalize one of the world’s most famous neighborhoods from end to end includes everything from new streetscapes to a dedicated ferry. But for many Coney Island residents attending this week’s town hall at the United Community Baptist Church, 2701 Mermaid Avenue, it fails to consider fundamental issues like housing, home ownership, job opportunities and safety. “They’re talking about opening a major entertainment center in the community and we got people dying every five minutes,” said local resident Joyce Collier. “I can’t send my daughter to a multi-cultural center for fear that in between 32nd Street and 92nd Street she’s going to get a bullet in the back of the head.” A new cultural center in the western half of Coney Island, potentially able to provide a wide range of social services, is one of the key features of the draft proposal that could be realized in the short term, according to planners. Others include illuminating the landmark Parachute Jump and restoring the B&B Carousel. All of that, however, is futile planning in the minds of many neighborhood residents living in public housing who say they face crime on an almost daily basis. Last year Coney Island experienced 17 murders, many thought to be drug-related. “You got major drug dealers over there, you got shootings over there, you got prostitution over there, something has to change,” said local resident James Horn. “Surf Avenue, Neptune, Mermaid need more police. To get people to come to Coney Island, to view Coney Island differently, you’re going to need a major police presence out here. Get these problems solved, then you can present something like this.” This week’s community meeting was the fifth such gathering the 13-member CIDC has held with the public since forming last year. Yet despite those meetings and promises of many more to come, residents living in Coney Island public housing fear that between all the glitz and glam the draft proposal promises, they’ll be the ones who’ll ultimately be squeezed out of the neighborhood. “I just want all of you to know that we’re not going anywhere,” said lifelong Coney Island resident Sheila Smalls. “There are a lot of things you need to address for Coney Island because Coney Island is just not all Caucasian. We come in all colors and we’re not moving.” The CIDC’s Kate Collignon denied that the residents in public housing would be forced out. “This question has come up repeatedly,” she said. “We’re not doing away with the public housing projects. The public housing projects are providing critical housing. There are no plans to change that.” Many remain unconvinced. At least one resident at the meeting sought a guarantee from City Councilman Domenic Recchia that public housing would survive in the new vision for Coney Island. “As long as I’m City Councilman I will do everything to make sure that public housing is here to stay in Coney Island,” he said. CIDC President Joshua Sirefman said, “Everybody up here is incredibly dedicated to make sure that anybody that wants to be heard in this process is heard. Our mandate is to figure out what’s the right kind of growth and vitality in Coney Island. It’s not our job to say this is what it is. It’s our job to work with you all and everybody else to figure out what’s right.” Many Coney Island residents also want to know what opportunities for home ownership will be available in the draft proposal. According to Collignon the CIDC was “looking at the range of programs that are available today” to help make the dream of home ownership a reality for more people in Coney Island. Lifelong Coney Island resident Dr. Stanley Felsen, 71, called on the CIDC to develop its plans with an eye toward fostering cultural harmony. “We have five or six distinct cultures in this community, but they are separate and apart,” he said. Any successful plan for Coney Island’s future will “overlap” those cultures and create a common lifestyle built on respect, he add. “I do not suggest how to go about doing that, but I know that once that’s done, you won’t have to be concerned with anything here, people will flock to Coney Island,” Dr. Felsen said. Statistics put the rate of black male unemployment in NYC at 50 percent. With so much new construction planned for Coney Island, residents like union plumber Cyprian McKenzie wondered how many of those new jobs will actually stay in the neighborhood. “How can we be assured that minority men and women will get jobs,” McKenzie said. On that issue, the CIDC was also unclear. “There is a whole range of nuance that is going to keep getting refined over the upcoming months and we’re going to keep coming and talking to you about it along the way,” Collignon said. No money has yet been committed to start the plan.

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