‘Editor’s Notebook’ with Diana Mosher

Coney Island: Balancing Profit with Personality

The Long Island beaches and the Jersey shore are both just a day trip away from my home, but my family sometimes enjoys staying within city limits for our beach outings. We like being able to get on the subway in our neighborhood and be at Rockaway Beach or Coney Island an hour later. Coney Island in particular (my new favorite) possesses a gritty urban vibe that I really like.

As Sebastian Smith explains in his travel report at TheAge.com, “The decline of Coney Island began more than half a century ago as urban crisis, social change and property disputes stymied development along the sprawling city beach.”

Yes, it’s seen better days, but the sense of history lingers on—and the people watching is fantastic. No New York City spot brings together as diverse a group. If you’re looking for local color, this is the place.

Developers like Coney Island too. Especially now that the subway terminal at Stillwell Avenue has undergone a major reconstruction with a terra cotta façade recalling the splendor of the former terminal as well as a roof with arches like those found in classic European train sheds (don’t forget the camera, like I did).

Also noteworthy is the fact that the new subway terminal is the largest renewable-energy enabled mass transit station in the United States. The roof is glazed with 76,000 square feet of photovoltaic panels that generate an annual output of 250,000 kW hours.

The potential for multifamily and hospitality development is staggering given the prices that ocean views would likely fetch. And the retailers will want to be there as well. While redevelopment efforts have been thwarted in the past, last week the City Council did indeed vote to approve zoning changes that will allow the city to reinvent this prime real estate. The rezoning plan includes hotels, restaurants, and four high rises as well as a 12-acre amusement district. The Coney Island Development Corporation has big plans. Click here for more about proposed projects and initiatives.

Now all eyes are on Brooklyn developer Joseph Sitt, who controls a large piece of land that the city needs in order to realize its plan. According to a report by Crain’s New York Business.com, Sitt appears to be close to cutting a deal with the Bloomberg administration.

Opponents say redevelopment will ruin Coney Island’s character. What do you think?