Coney Island's Tilt-A-Whirl Has Final Spin After Sale (Update1)
By Alan Mirabella
Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Say goodbye to Coney Island's Astroland Amusement Park.
Brooklyn's famous seaside park, which has offered thrills to generations of New Yorkers, was bought by a developer and will close at the end of the 2007 summer season, according to a statement released yesterday by the sellers, the Albert family.
Thor Equities LLC, a closely held real estate developer based in New York, is planning a $1.5 billion year-round resort in Coney Island that will include a 4,000-foot-long (1,219- meter-long) roller coaster, an indoor water park with a retractable roof and a multilevel carousel. The idea of investing in Coney Island came to Thor Chief Executive Officer Joseph Sitt while he was jogging through his childhood neighborhood about three years ago.
``As I jogged, I was thinking, `What an opportunity,''' the native Brooklynite said. ``We're by the ocean. This is gold. This is where amusements were invented.'' Buying the 3.1-acre (1.3-hectare) Astroland property will bolster his development plans, he said in an interview.
Astroland features rides including the Cyclone roller coaster and the Tilt-A-Whirl, a water flume, bumper cars and three arcades with games of chance. It has been operated by the Albert family since it opened in 1962. No price was disclosed for the transaction. As part of the deal, the Alberts retained the Astroland business and said in the statement they may re- open in another location in Coney Island.
``The decision to close Astroland was very difficult,'' said Carol Hill Albert, who owns Astroland with her husband Jerome. Dewey Albert, Jerome's father, opened the park.
Converting an area as large as Astroland into an all-year attraction is extremely expensive, and the sale was the only logical alterative, she said.
The Alberts will continue to operate the landmark Cyclone roller coaster, which will be 80 years old next year.
Coney Island's beach and amusement parks have attracted millions of people over more than 100 years. Before Astroland, Steeplechase Park opened in 1897 with an attraction known as the Steeplechase Ride, in which visitors rode wooden horses around the Pavilion of Fun, according to the History of Amusement Parks Web site.
The locale has been featured in several movies, including Woody Allen's ``Annie Hall.'' In a flashback, Allen's alter-ego, Alvy Singer, revisits his childhood home under a Coney Island roller coaster. In October, the Coney Island Film Festival had its sixth anniversary.
``Coney Island was this magical place,'' New York author Gay Talese said in an interview. ``It wasn't just a place to get a hot dog. It had so much open sky. It was a place you could experience liberty.''
Talese said he visited Coney Island in the late 1940s when it had a ``true carnival atmosphere.'' While plans for development may reinvent the area, there is a risk that it will become ``unrecognizable from what it once was,'' he said.
Dick Zigun, director of Coney Island USA, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the area's carnival traditions, said Astroland and the Albert family helped keep Coney Island alive at a time when many shopkeepers and amusement operators had abandoned it.
``Astroland was a place where not a single light bulb was burned out, there was never any graffiti and never a crack in the sidewalk,'' Zigun said.
Lynn Kelly, president of the Coney Island Development Corp., said that New York City is committed to revitalizing Coney Island as a ``year-round entertainment district.''
``Astroland and the Albert family have helped define Coney Island's unique character over the last half-century,'' Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said in a statement.
Tim Janus, 29, the world's seventh-ranked competitive eater and a participant in the last Fourth of July hot dog eating contests at Nathan's Famous restaurant on the Coney Island boardwalk, promised a hunger strike in protest.
``To see Astroland going, that's a huge blow,'' Janus said. ``It's got a special place in my heart.''
To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Mirabella in New York at email@example.com .
Last Updated: November 29, 2006 04:10 EST