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Coney Set For Theme Pk Stamp

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Thor Equities has retained one of the world’s foremost destination designers and producers to help with their plans to make Coney Island a year-round amusement and entertainment center, sources say. The firm, Think Well Design and Productions, envisions, develops and manages some of the top theme parks, museums, sports franchises, casinos and hotels in the world. Among its clients are Universal Studios in Japan and Florida and Cirque de Soleil worldwide. The first job they will be doing for Coney Island is designing the fence around Thor’s section of the amusement area once it closes after this upcoming summer season. The fence will feature an aesthetically pleasing look and create a buzz for the year-round entertainment plan, according to Thor Equities spokesperson Lee Silberstein. Silberstein was the featured speaker at last week’s Community Board 13 Economic Development Committee meeting held at the community board’s office on Surf Avenue and West 12th Street. Also at the meeting was Coney Island Development Corporation President Lynn Kelly, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park co-owner Dennis Vourderis, Eldorado Bumper car ride owners Scott and Sandy Fitlin, and several local civic leaders. Silberstein began his presentation by stating that Thor Equities CEO and founder Joseph Sitt grew up in the area and is very passionate about the project both from a business and personal investment. The three foundations that Joe Sitt intends for the project is to create jobs for the community, extend the amusement area to year-round with state-of-the art amusements, and to serve the community as well as visitors to the area, he said. Silberstein said that Thor feels that a strong retail component is important because the community is underserved for a strong retail corridor. In addition, a multi-functioning hotel is an important part to the mix, he said, adding the plan would call for the hotel in the middle of a New Orleans-style Bourbon Street area on both sides of Stillwell Avenue (excluding the Nathan’s site) down to the Bowery. This area would include a mix of amusements including a carrousel and water park along with street-level restaurants and shops that could be open at night with glass panels that enclose it for part of the year, he said. Silberstein said the full-service hotel would also be in this area with a limited amount of conference space, perhaps between 30,000 and 40,000 square feet, a multiplex cinema and hotel rooms on top of that. Among the key questions on everybody’s lips for Silberstein was Thor’s plan for residential housing on the amusement area site which is all currently zoned C-7, meaning for amusements only. Silberstein responded that a limited amount – hundreds and not thousands -- of residential units would be developed on a new street tentatively called Front Street between the Bowery and the Boardwalk. The housing component is important for a 365-day, 24/7 district for the same reason it is being utilized in the Brooklyn Bridge Park development – to help pay for the project. “You need to have eyes and ears on the street. You need people here on February 4 and not just July 4,” Silberstein said. “You need to make sure someone has ownership and interest on that street year-round on a 24-hour basis,” he added. Silberstein also argued that the residential could be strong enough to help pay for some of the amusement area that won’t pay for itself. “You cannot build roller coasters, carousels and indoor water parks in an urban setting and expect it to generate enough revenue to pay for itself,” said Silberstein. “If it did I don’t think Coney Island would be in the position it is in today.” Silberstein said the area already has an abundance of subsidized housing. He indicated that putting an affordable component in the proposed housing would defeat the purpose of the residential component subsidizing the amusement area. “I know housing is an issue. This is not a residential development. What most excites Joe Sitt is rebuilding and expanding amusements,” he said. Skeptics at the meeting inquired what kind of people would want to live in the middle of an area that has 250,000 people flooding the area on a hot summer day. Silberstein responded that many people love living in the heart of everything such as Times Square. “If we’re wrong about that, then we got the problem,” he said. Another person at the meeting asked about the height of any development, stating nothing should be talker than the Parachute Jump, the Wonder Wheel or the Cyclone, which are all Coney Island landmarks. Silberstein responded that such thinking goes against the very nature of Coney Island where amusement developers were always doing bigger, better and brasher. “If people have an attitude that height was a problem, the Parachute Jump would have never been built,” he said. Silberstein did say that any design would allow for view corridors of the Wonder Wheel, Cyclone and Parachute Jump. Silberstein did not have any date when an actual project plan would be submitted, which the city could then act on and begin a rezoning process. After the meeting, Vourderis said he has mixed emotions about the housing, but everyone keeps telling him it’s a necessity to make the overall amusement area plan work. “We will oppose strict residential in any part and especially at that part (between the Bowery and the Boardwalk off Stillwell Avenue),” Vourderis said, adding he would support combined usage. Vourderis said if Thor does get any residential component in his portion of the amusement area, he would want the same thing. You can’t build out, but you can build up, he said. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If they get any residential I would submit a plan, but I want to see something from Thor first,” he said.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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