I ate my first corn dog in Coney Island. I also drank three cups of Budweiser in under thirty minutes and dragged my friend onto the Cyclone, after which I puked in her lap. It was a magical afternoon. Sure, I got a splinter the size of a baby’s pinkie from a bench in front of a suspicious looking clam shack. I also had to toss everything that came in contact with that grayish, mucky substance that Coney Island beach-goers mistakenly call sand. There might have even been a moment before the first drop on the Cyclone when I believed that I wouldn’t live to see the haunted house.
What I’m trying to say is that the Coney Island experience is irreplaceable. Whether you call New York home or spent a summer in the city during your sophomore year of college, America’s populist playground doubtless left you with vivid memories. This makes reimagining the amusement park a delicate operation. On one hand, Coney Island needs some renovation before it decays into a brightly-colored trash heap on the beach, punctuated by the occasional, Speedo-clad Russian (or, wait — has that already happened? is that why we love Coney Island?). On the other, it is one of the last bastions of New York quirkiness in a city seems to lose an experimental theater and gain an Olive Garden every twenty five minutes.
How can Coney Island be restored to glory without transforming it into a Brooklyn riff on Busch Gardens?
Unsurprisingly, there are conflicting interests on the table. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the Bloomberg administration introduced a plan to develop a 9.4 acre amusement district that would eliminate the deathtrap kiddie rides to make way for breweries, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors and laser games. Landmarked death traps like the parachute jump, the Cyclone, Deno’s Wonder Wheel and Nathan’s hot dog stand would mercifully remain.
The Municipal Art Society, a prominent civic group, disagrees. Citing the “go big or go home” argument, they claim that the park’s only hope for success is growth. Their recently unveiled proposal includes a district three times the size of Bloomberg’s paltry 9.4 acres as well as plans to develop hotels and housing. The entire area would be devoted to what the New York Times calls “outlandish amusements” (I can’t keep my imagination from wandering here — dancing monkeys? Whirly gigs? Those inflatable bouncy castles?). Its crown jewel would be an “iconic amusement” similar to the London Eye. There’s nothing amusing about a ride on the London Eye.
Like any good story of civic contention, the little guys ultimately have to spar with the heavy hitters. Enter developer, Joseph J. Sitt, with money symbols in his eyes, arguing that the park should become a corporate wasteland of big-box retailers, shiny new amusements and time-share hotels (?!). Presumably a follower of the “go biggest in order to send the other players home” theory, Sitt has been buying property in the area for years and currently owns 10 strategic acres. Unless he relents and sells the city half of his land, none of the proposed plans will move forward (Sitt’s requires a whopping 1.5 billion dollars that probably won’t materialize until after this pesky “impending depression” thing works itself out).
The greatest fear, of course, is that none of the plans bear fruit, rendering Coney Island a shuttered vacant lot during a summer when people need affordable amusement. If this is the case, I am going to be angry. Very angry. What’s so wrong with rubbery hotdogs and structurally unsound amusements anyway? In my opinion, the rides are already pretty outlandish. The malfunctioning space simulator? The budget haunted house? Please. They define “outlandish.” Furthermore, the Cyclone isn’t iconic enough? Finally, who is nuts enough to go in for a time-share in Coney Island? Not even the hipster sense of irony could possibly stretch that far. Unfortunately, the ball is already in motion and there’s little hope that any of us will ever contract tetanus from the Wonder Wheel ever again.
So the question for *today’s poll is the following:
* New York readers: If you choose Sitt’s proposal you will be relinquishing your status as a New Yorker.