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    City Group Tries To Recondition Coney Island

    As amusement rides get shipped away and boardwalk businesses fight to stay open, the future of Coney Island has become more uncertain than ever. The Municipal Art Society, a nonprofit city advocacy group, is trying to make sure Coney Island maintains its appeal as a seaside amusement destination.

    On Tuesday, Feb 3, the group unveiled its ImagineConey exhibition in Manhattan. An initiative launched last fall, ImagineConey brought together designers, economists and architects from all over the world to draw up plans for Coney Island’s future.

    “Coney Island is one of the greatest brands in the world,” said Stuart Pertz, head of the initiative. “We’re sitting on it — this incredible opportunity — and we’ve got to make it work.”

    The exhibit features some of the more than 350 renderings submitted by the public online as well as the results of a two-day design workshop held in November and the findings of extensive economic research.

    The Municipal Art Society hopes to spark development ideas and encourage the city to purchase the amusement area from Thor Equities, a corporation that has bought up most of the beachfront land in recent years and is offering it to the city for no less than $200 million — about twice what it paid.

    In addition to developing a long-term vision for the area, ImagineConey has met with local residents to help generate ideas for what can be done throughout the next few summers to attract visitors.

    Much of the beachfront land is now boarded up and surrounded by gates. The community fears that without more attractions the area will fall into further disrepair and neglect.

    “God gave us this wonderland and we haven’t developed it properly,” said Lou Powsner, a local businessman and community activist.

    In an effort to maintain some control over the area’s redevelopment, the city has proposed a rezoning plan. The proposal is currently undergoing a public review process that began in January and will last nearly seven months.

    The proposal calls for a 27-acre amusement and entertainment district, but only 12 of those acres would be solely for amusements. The rest of the area would be open to retail stores and hotels — much more profitable projects.

    With a private developer in control of the land, amusements would surely be confined to those 12 acres, leaving the rest of the land open to projects that many believe would ruin Coney Island’s character.

    “Land prices deter amusement development on privately-purchased land, so public investment in land purchase is required,” said David Malmuth, a real estate consultant and economist who worked with ImagineConey.

    The group’s research shows that Coney Island would need at least 25 acres of amusement to accommodate the crowds that a redeveloped park would draw — a projected 3.4 million people per year. The researchers also believe that there is enormous potential for corporate sponsorship, which would generate a substantial amout of income for the city.

    ImagineConey’s findings show that with an innovative new ride and proper development, the area would become a huge source of revenue. In the long run, they believe, purchasing the land from Thor would be a great investment for the city. Dick Zigun, who directs Coney Island USA, a nonprofit arts group, and is often regarded as the unofficial mayor of Coney Island, acknowledges that the Municipal Art Society is the area’s best hope even though it has no legal power.

    “Because of their influence and their 100-year history and because they’re Upper East Side hoity-toity people who hang out with the mayor and his friends, they have a better chance of influencing the city,” Zigun said, laughing.

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