Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Coney Island: Glorious Past, Bright Future... Dark Present



Recently I attended a meeting between Coney Island Development Corporation, City Planning Commission and Brighton Improvement District. I listened to the designated speakers with growing disbelief. I caught myself on the thought that I attended more than fifteen similar events in the last five years. There were numerous public presentations by CIDC, CPC, Thor Equities (President Joe Sitt), Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Community Board 13, New York City Economic Development Corporation, and so on. All of them looked and sounded absolutely the same: concerned about the future of Coney Island, praising the beginning of the 20th century in the neighborhood history, ignoring the tough and unpleasant realities of Coney Island today.
During my campaign for NYS Assembly in 2006, I met with many local residents who expressed total luck of confidence in this confusing and very long process. They told me they do not believe Joe Sitt as well as Mayor Bloomberg. They felt complete ignorance by the city and state authorities to their needs and problems. They asked me, "How could we like any of these plans to build condominiums, restaurants, hotel towers and stuff like spa, while we live in low-quality public housing with high crime, and drugs around?" They were reasonably disappointed with a lot of talk and no actions whatsoever.
So, here we were for another round of the same talk. This time, the city was making an effort to reach not just the black community of Coney Island and the local Community Board, but also Russian-speaking businessmen, and community activists from Brighton Beach. The speakers tried to assure us that they know and care about the scarcity of available parking in the area (the plan predicts the creation of more than seven thousand parking spots), the importance of the thousands construction and hospitality jobs for local residents, the necessity of the year-round busy amusement district. They deflected controversial questions about developer Joe Sitt who controls huge chunks of property in the amusement area and about State Senator Carl Kruger who recently became Chairman of the influential Finance committee. Joe Sitt and Carl Kruger together can easily block any city plans by stalling the process for a long time.
I believe that Coney Island residents as well as all New Yorkers deserve to see the better future of this unique neighborhood during their lifetime. To achieve this milestone, all parties, including controversial ones should put their ambitions aside and work together to reach a sensible compromise.

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