Grassroots activist group Save Coney Island today condemned the announcement by Thor Equities that it would immediately move toward demolishing several historic buildings that it owns in the heart of Coney Island’s amusement district.
“Thor’s demolition plan would destroy Coney Island’s history and undermine its unique appeal,” said Save Coney Island spokesman Juan Rivero. “It is a short-sighted squandering of the tremendous potential of these buildings to provide a distinctive Coney Island experience.”
Thor announced yesterday that it will immediately move toward demolishing all the properties it owns along Surf Avenue. Among the structures immediately in danger are some dating back more than 100 years, including the amusement district’s oldest remaining building, the Grashorn Building (built in the 1880s), and the Henderson Music Hall building (built circa 1900), where Harpo Marx first performed with his brothers Groucho and Gummo). The respected Municipal Art Society has expressed its support for landmarking these structures. Other endangered historic structures include the Shore Hotel and the Bank of Coney Island.
As Coney Island gets ready for an exciting summer of revitalization with the opening of Zamperla USA’s new Luna Park, Thor Equities is threatening to turn the commercial heart of Coney Island into a vast demolition zone during peak season. Thor says that the retail structures it hopes to build to replace the historic structures it wants to destroy won’t even be ready until 2011.
Thor’s rush to begin demolition appears to be an attempt to get rid of these historic buildings to foil efforts by Save Coney Island and other groups to landmark them and establish a historic landmark district in Coney Island’s amusement area to preserve what little remains from Coney Island’s heyday.
“Thor’s rush to demolish these historic buildings is a transparent, underhanded attempt to head off the landmarking process,” Rivero said. “Thor apparently fails to realize the tremendous value that could be generated by the restoration and reuse of the buildings along this historic corridor”
Since it began buying up land in Coney Island’s amusement district several years ago, Thor Equities has established a clear track record of broken promises and has turned much of Coney Island into a wasteland. For instance Thor forced the closure of the famed Astroland amusement park. Thor also forced out the amusement operators along what had been a lively entertainment corridor on Stillwell Avenue in the heart of Coney Island, leaving behind dirt lots and tattered tents.
“Thor’s record speaks for itself,” Rivero said. “For the past several summers, Thor has consistently chosen to undermine the amusement district and passed up every opportunity to enhance it. Now, Thor’s reckless demolition plan is threatening to disrupt what should be a summer of revitalization and rebirth for Coney Island.”
UNDERSTANDING THOR’S DEMOLITION PLANS:
What is in danger of being lost under Thor’s plans?
Coney Island USA and Mermaid Parade founder Dick Zigun has noted: “There’s more left of ancient Rome than turn-of the century Coney Island.” Thor Equities is threatening to destroy several of Coney Island’s handful of remaining historic structures, some more than a century old.
Thor owns the following buildings:
* The Grashorn Building (built in the late 1880s), the Coney Island amusement area’s oldest surviving building
* The Henderson Music Hall Building (built circa 1900), where Harpo Marx first performed with his brothers Groucho and Gummo
* The Shore Hotel (built circa 1900)
* The Bank of Coney Island Building (built circa 1923)
Are Thor’s buildings “structurally questionable and potentially dangerous,” as the developer claims?
We do not have reason to think so. The Henderson Building is currently in use by tenants. Thor itself was until recently reportedly in discussions about leasing the Grashorn building to a sideshow operator for this coming summer. The Shore Hotel was in operation as a hotel until fairly recently.
If these historic structures have deteriorated at all in recent years, it is because Thor has left them mostly vacant and failed to adequately maintain them, beyond boarding up their windows and placing giant for-lease signs on them. But if they were actually “structurally questionable,” why would Thor be putting “for lease” signs on them?
What would replace these buildings?
In the immediate term, nothing would exist in their place, aside from perhaps rubble. Thor says that it would not have anything up and running on these sites until the summer of 2011. The New York Observer described Thor’s plans for the sites as “simple — presumably cheap — (temporary) one-story retail in its place.” The Observer described Thor’s artistic renderings of its plans for its building sites as “almost designed to inspire distaste” and wrote that they “highlight the potential for fast food, slapping a Burger King-like joint on the corner, next to a taco restaurant with signage highly suggestive of Taco Bell.”
In the long term, Thor has expressed its desire to build high rises in the heart of Coney Island’s historic low-rise amusement district. The sites of these historic buildings have been recently rezoned to potentially allow for high-rises of up to 30 stories. Such soaring, out-of-context towers would cast shadows over the amusement area, wall off the beach and the rides, ruin iconic vistas, and spoil Coney Island’s open-air atmosphere.
What will be the effect on Coney Island this summer?
As Coney Island gets ready for an exciting summer of revitalization with the opening of Zamperla USA’s new Luna Park, Thor Equities is threatening to turn the commercial heart of Coney Island into an empty wasteland and a vast demolition zone during peak season. Thor’s plans are likely to severely harm other nearby businesses operating in Coney Island’s amusement area this summer.
Why is Thor in such a hurry to demolish these buildings?
Thor says it needs to demolish these structures immediately in order to have sites ready for the summer of 2011. But there’s a better explanation for Thor’s rush. Thor’s demolition plan is a transparent effort to destroy these historically significant buildings before they can be landmarked.
Coney Island USA has proposed landmarking some of these buildings, an effort that has gained the support of the respected Municipal Art Society. Save Coney Island and other groups are pushing for the creation of a landmark district that would include all of these buildings.
Can these buildings be restored and reused?
Yes. The Municipal Art Society, Coney Island USA and Save Coney Island have urged the reuse of Coney Island’s historic buildings.
Thor Equities CEO Joe Sitt says “we’re thrilled to be playing a role in the rebirth of this legendary neighborhood.” What is Thor’s record in Coney Island so far?
Since it began buying up land in Coney Island’s amusement district several years ago, Thor Equities has established a clear track record of broken promises and has turned much of Coney Island into a wasteland.
Thor forced the closure of the famed Astroland, which had been Coney Island’s anchor amusement park for nearly half a century. Thor forced out amusement operators along Stillwell Avenue, which had been a lively entertainment corridor in the heart of Coney Island, leaving behind dirt lots and tattered tents.
Thor even shut down its own hand-picked operator of the temporary Dreamland park in the middle of this past summer season over a rent dispute, an action that prompted Coney Island City Councilman Domenic Recchia — an erstwhile Thor ally — to call Thor CEO Joe Sitt a “heartless person who only cares about money.”
Thor is threatening to forever dash the possibility of a revitalized historic core for Coney Island’s amusement district. We are putting together a campaign to prevent that from happening, and we need your help.
Here’s what you can do:
Coney Island’s City Council member, Domenic Recchia (718-373-9673), firstname.lastname@example.org
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz (718-802-3700), email@example.com
The Landmarks Preservation Commission (212-669-7817), firstname.lastname@example.org
and tell them:
· Preserving and reusing Coney Island’s historic buildings is essential to its successful redevelopment.
· A historic district should be created to maintain a connection to Coney Island’s heyday.
· Stop Thor’s plans to demolish Coney Island’s historic buildings.
· They need to act now, before it’s too late.
We are working to raise public awareness about this urgent threat to Coney Island’s remaining historical structures and to promote the creation of a historic district in a renewed Coney Island amusement area. We have designed printed materials to distribute for this campaign but we need funds to print them. Please help our efforts by making a donation by clicking on the “DONATE” button on the top of the left column.
We will be organizing a public event on this issue soon. We would like you to attend. Please stay tuned for further details. We need you to make your voice heard.
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