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Coney Community Ctr. to Rise On Surf; Residents Make Pitch For Programs

The new community center advertised as the first jewel in the city’s grand plan to reinvent Coney Island is set to rise on a 60,000 square foot parcel of fallow land on Surf Avenue between West 29th and West 30th streets. Neighbors huddled into small groups inside Our Lady of Solace Church, 2866 Mermaid Avenue last week to help build a consensus on exactly what sort of features the new facility should have. Topping the list? A new swimming pool – one that could provide recreational activities for Coney Island’s youth as well as train a whole new generation of Coney Island lifeguards. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build something that this community has wanted for years,” a visibly excited Councilmember Domenic Recchia said. Representatives from the Coney Island Development Corporation – the group formed in 2003 by Mayor Mike Bloomberg to turn the world-famous neighborhood into a year-round entertainment center – joined other officials from the New York City Economic Development Corporation and Department of Housing & Urban Development to facilitate the meeting with residents. In putting in his pitch for the pool, Recchia said that he was “tired of hearing” that the children of Coney Island had nowhere to go for recreation. But there were other hot-ticket items that area residents want to see included in the new Surf Avenue facility in addition to a swimming pool. Among them are a kitchen, a computer lab, a day care center, a black box theater, a dance studio, an art gallery, and adaptable classroom space capable of accommodating a wide range of job training and entrepreneurial courses. Coney Island residents who expect to be active participants in the renaissance of their community are counting on those programs to help them land jobs in the future. “It doesn’t work unless everybody is a part of it,” said Community Board 13 District Manager Chuck Reichenthal. CB 13 Chair Brian Gotlieb called last week’s planning workshop a “good start” in that direction. “Education provides an opportunity to go for that bigger and better job,” he said. “A system has to be put into place to provide access. There’s a feeling in the community that they have been left out.” Last week’s workshop was the last time the public will have the opportunity to directly shape the initial development of the proposed community center. In the next few months, the city is expected to draw up its Request For Proposals (RFP) and present it to CB 13 for comment. A development team for the project could be chosen by the summer, followed by a public review for the disposition of the city-owned property in the fall. The 60,000-square-foot lot on Surf Avenue will actually yield about 40,000 square feet of usable space for planned activities excluding space for parking and a drop-off area, according to officials. “We can’t fit everything under the sun. We’re going to have to make some hard decisions,” EDC’s Kate Collingnon warned. In addition, Collingnon said that because the new facility needed to be sustainable over the long haul, some programs would have to be chosen in favor of others. Other Coney Island residents advised against duplicating services already found in the community. “Let’s focus on what we don’t have in the community and build that,” said one longtime Coney Island resident. Collingnon maintained that job training outlets, adult education classes, child care programs, senior services and recreational facilities already exist in Coney Island to varying degrees. “We’re not saying that this is enough, but they exist,” she said. Senior services are “not what they should be” in Coney Island, according to Gotlieb. “There’s going to have to be some compromise,” he said. Funding for the proposed center is now being established and could include at least one high-profile contribution from the private sector. “I don’t think you can say that everyone didn’t get a chance to express their needs and priorities, said Edie Mark, a member of the Coney Island Neighborhood Organization. Many questions still remain, however, including who will actually run the facility. “Whoever runs it will have to have constant interaction with the community,” said Gotlieb. “And the facility will have to change with the community.” If construction on the proposed community center were to begin next year, officials say it could be open by 2009.

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