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Old Coney Island Amusements Set to Whirl Again Even as New Rides Remain Beached

The site of the Coney Island amusement district expansion, next to the Thunderbolt ride.
The site of the Coney Island amusement district expansion, next to the Thunderbolt ride.
Gabriel Sandoval/ THE CITY

When Coney Island’s world-famous amusement rides reopen Friday, crowds of tourists and New Yorkers are expected to hop on for the first time since the pandemic shuttered businesses along Brooklyn’s historic boardwalk last spring.

But notably missing from the beachfront People’s Playground are several attractions originally scheduled for completion up to two years ago — including a new log flume water ride, an arcade, a public plaza with a food court and an “adventure park” with a rope course.

And they’re all still at least a year away.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation announced in 2018 the selection of Central Amusement International, the owner of Coney Island’s Luna Park, to expand the amusement district by 150,000 square feet on city-owned property. That would increase the district by 50%, to 450,000 square feet.

The adventure park was supposed to open in 2019, with the water ride expected a year later. But pandemic shutdowns nixed any hope of the expansion materializing during the 2020 season — a lost year that should have included celebration of the 100th anniversary of Deno’s Wonder Wheel.

The EDC doesn’t anticipate the new attractions to be ready until the 2022 season, according to a spokesperson.

“At this time, we are in active conversations and will evaluate all options to ensure the recovery and long term success of the amusement district,” the spokesperson, Shavone Williams, wrote in a statement.

CAI and its president, Alessandro Zamperla, did not respond to requests for comment.

At the future site of the planned water ride and adventure park — next to the popular Thunderbolt roller coaster — a vacant lot remains off-limits.

Expired Department of Buildings construction permits hang on a chain-linked, tarp-covered and partially boarded fence surrounding the property.

Anticipation and Precaution

Luna Park will be limited to 33% capacity when it reopens on Friday, with health guidelines — such as mandatory face mask for guests 2 and up, and six-foot spacing while waiting on lines — in effect. The park’s rides include the Cyclone, whose wooden frame is nearly as old as the Wonder Wheel.

Tickets must be booked online in advance. The park will open only on weekends through Memorial Day, after which it will operate daily throughout summer.

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park also reopens Friday, with tickets honored for up to two hours sold online in advance.

A child marvels at the Wonder Wheel and the rest of Coney Island as the Q train approaches the Stillwell Avenue station.
A child marvels at the Wonder Wheel and the rest of Coney Island as the Q train approaches the Stillwell Avenue station.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

As part of a belated 100th birthday celebration, Deno’s will give free rides to 100 front-line workers, Bklyner reported.

This summer is also expected to bring the debut of Phoenix, a new roller coaster that will stand 68 feet tall and reach speeds of up to 34 mph, according to the Alliance for Coney Island.

Deno’s’ and Luna Park’s main gates will be closed to prevent passersby without tickets from wandering around to look at the rides.

The reopening is expected to boost the local economy. That includes business for Luna Park’s owner, Zamperla, who reportedly lost millions as a result of the closure.

“The last dollar — penny, actually — that we made was in October of 2019,” Zamperla told Fox Business in September as he begged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to let amusement parks reopen.

But six small business owners near Luna Park were already experiencing economic hardships prior to the pandemic as Zamperla, their landlord, increased rent as much as 400%, The New York Times reported in January 2020.

There’s only been one permanent closure in the area that wasn’t planned before the pandemic, according to the Alliance’s executive director, Alexandra Silversmith. Still, she added, businesses throughout Coney have been struggling.

Only the nearby New York Aquarium was eligible for the federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, made available via a stimulus bill signed into law by then-President Donald Trump in December.

“There’s a lot of back rent issues, we heard that from a lot of businesses. We heard from one business that they were using credit cards, which is really not great because then it becomes personal liability,” Silversmith told THE CITY.

“We’ve heard from others that they’ve dipped into their personal savings, so it’s been a whole gamut of different ways to survive.”

Smaller shops outside of the amusement district tend to not have the same level of resources, such as accountants, to help tap relief programs, Silversmith noted.

Many mom and pop shops on Mermaid and Neptune Avenues have rebuffed The Alliance for Coney Island’s offers to help them apply for the federal Paycheck Protection Program and other government loans branded as aid.

Silversmith said that many feel “burned” by loans given out following Superstorm Sandy.

“I think there’s a distrust of government,” she said. “But ‘loan forgiveness’ is just a strange concept and they feel it’s not the case.”

Art Fursenko, 25, who has lived in the Coney Island neighborhood for most of his life, said he’s looking forward to the reopening after seeing the pandemic’s devastating effects on the area.

“It’s worked in Six Flags, it’s worked in Disneyland,” he said. “I think if it’s done safely and they follow proper protocol, especially if it’s socially distanced, it could be very much a benefit to society.”

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