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NYC Purchases Nearly Seven Acres of Coney Island

Fri November 20, 2009 - Northeast Edition

NEW YORK (AP) The doors to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s dreams for Coney Island finally flew open Nov. 11 with the city’s purchase of almost seven acres of the Brooklyn waterfront after years of tough talks with a developer.

City officials said the price for the 6.9 acres is $95.6 million — going to Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities firm.

The deal comes after an often secretive, start-and-stop tussle between the two billionaires that left the Coney Island plan up in the air even after the City Council approved it in July.

Bloomberg wants to turn the crumbling neighborhood by the boardwalk into a shining, year-round destination with high-rise hotels, restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters and the city’s first new roller coaster since the Cyclone was built in 1927.

Loren Riegelhaupt, a Thor spokesman, confirmed Nov. 11 that a deal was reached but declined to comment further.

As detailed by city officials, it appears to be a good deal for Sitt, Thor’s chairman and chief executive officer.

The city had originally wanted to buy about 11 acres of his Coney Island property. He was asking for well over $100 million for the land, which he’s getting — but for only about seven acres.

The rest will remain the 45-year-old developer’s “sandbox’’ — as he called his part of Coney Island in an interview with The Associated Press last July. He told the AP that he still wants to play a role in the future of his childhood turf.

City officials said in a statement that the acquired acres will serve “to expand, enhance and make permanent Coney Island’s historic amusement district.’’

The city now owns more than 92 percent of the land for a 12-acre outdoor amusement park, part of a new 27-acre entertainment district. In addition, the 65,000 people who live in Coney Island’s gritty, declining projects would get nearly 5,000 new units of housing, including 900 income-targeted units, generating more than 25,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs.

Critics of the city plan were quick to weigh in on the land purchase.

“It’s a critical first step towards the revitalization of Coney Island, but it is not enough,’’ Juan Rivero of the Save Coney Island community group said in a statement.

With the city buying only seven acres of Thor’s property, the outdoor amusement area is “confined to a narrow 12-acre strip of land, squeezed in by a proposed multi-story entertainment mall and blocked off by a wall of proposed high-rise hotels.’’

Unless the city buys more of Thor’s land and hotel plans are eliminated, Rivero said, “the plan would permanently compromise Coney Island’s potential to once again become a world-class amusement destination.’’

The seven acres are at the heart of Coney Island and where the Astroland rides operated for decades; they were dismantled last year. With that, the amusement district dwindled to only three acres of makeshift attractions, with the iconic Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel and Nathan’s hot dog stand surviving amid trash-strewn, vacant lots.

In the past, Sitt’s vision for the seafront property he purchased in recent years have included glitzy retail businesses, luxury condominiums, time-share hotels and a water park.

Exactly how his plans might fit into the city’s was unclear.

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