Coney Island is Doing Well. But It’s Still Got Work To Do.
While significantly better off than a decade ago, Coney Island could still be better
Coney Island is a destination I’ve written multiple articles about already, but this is due to a few things: its rich history, my genuine fondness for it, and its potential to be even greater than it already is. I grew up in the neighborhood north of Coney Island, so I frequented the park with friends and family throughout my life, and have always had a soft spot for the place.
And with that being said, it’s undeniable that Coney Island has seen massive revitalization and growth over the past ten years, and this trend continues to this day. While the pandemic in 2020 shut Luna Park down for the entire summer, which did not do it any favors, it bounced back strong in 2021, and is due to experience further growth and expansion come summer 2022.
Underway is a new Luna Park expansion located between Maimonides Park (formerly known as MCU Park) and the Thunderbolt roller coaster, on a plot of land which has remained empty for decades. The new expansion, which was due to open for the summer of 2020 but due to the pandemic was delayed by two years, will now finally open in the summer of 2022. The new expansion includes a new entrance along the boardwalk leading to a a rock-climbing station, a new log flume water ride, and a new green family coaster.
Between this expansion and the new ferry service to Coney Island, which will come later this year and I’ll discuss further, it’s safe to assume that Coney Island will further plant its position on the map, as it becomes an ever-increasing summer destination for families and friends all over. But here’s the thing: while these expansions are great, there is still much work to be done.
One trip to Coney Island in the summer will offer you both sides of the coin: you’ll get the glitz and glamor of the area, with the night lights, mighty rides and fun crowds, but you’ll also see plenty of dilapidation. Wander the side alleys between the different plots of land that the rides sit upon, and you’ll notice crumbling and abandoned buildings seemingly right at the forefront of Surf Avenue. These aspects are pre-remnants of Coney Island’s once dark past which still remain, and if Coney Island is to propel itself forward and become a world-class destination as it once was, they must go.
So what can Coney Island do to reach its full potential?
To begin, let’s re-visit that ferry expansion we mentioned earlier. Later this year, Coney Island will receive a new ferry route as part of the NYC Ferry system. The route will connect Coney Island to Manhattan with a quick and simple boat ride, much quicker than a train ride, and make Coney Island much more accessible. Sounds great, right?
It is, on paper. The only problem is, the ferry landing will be located in the complete wrong location. It’ll be placed in the Coney Island Creek, which, despite its name, is not near the amusement park. It is a twenty-five minute walk from the boardwalk, and so, to access the boardwalk from the ferry stop, you will have to walk twenty-five minutes through a quite run-down and crime-ridden area, and pray you don’t get mugged or shot.
And this is not an exaggeration, because as much love as I have for Coney Island, I’m not one to deny its surrounding crime problems. Despite this, however, the surrounding blocks have seen slight redevelopment over the past decade, particularly around Surf Avenue. But in terms of the ferry, it makes little sense to place the stop in the Coney Island Creek, especially since a long pier leading to the boardwalk, the Steeplechase Pier, already exists. They could have easily added the ferry stop to the end of the pier, which would lead right onto the boardwalk, and be much more efficient.
I can only imagine that this idea was studied and ultimately rejected for reasons unknown to the public, as it seems almost impossible to me that the Steeplechase Pier would be accidentally looked over in favor of the Creek for a ferry stop. The Coney Island Creek location was most likely chosen not for the tourists flocking to Coney Island, but rather for the actual residents who live near the Creek, and will be able to use the ferry to commute north.
This, of course, is more beneficial to the residents in the surrounding area, but hurts Coney Island proper, as tourists will assume that the ferry goes to the amusement park, when it does not. Thus, tourists should avoid taking the ferry to Coney Island when it opens, and just take the subway, which will lead them right to the amusement park. So, if I was in charge of bringing Coney Island back to its full potential, the first move would be to advocate not for moving the ferry stop, as this would hurt the nearby residents, but rather to add an additional ferry stop at the end of the Steeplechase Pier, for easier access to the amusement park and boardwalk of Coney Island.
So, with the ferry situation taken care of, tourism will now boom even further in the amusement park. But this does not solve the current problems present in the park itself. Firstly, as mentioned before, the park is home to several abandoned buildings and lots, which is unacceptable. Specifically, the block on the corner of Surf Avenue and West 12th Street, between Bowery Street and Jones Walk, needs to go. In our master plan, this block would be demolished and along the northern half of the block, along Surf Avenue, new commercial space would be built. The southern half of the plot would be better integrated into the surrounding amusement park, with either two new carnival rides or a new compact roller coaster.
EDIT: As of this article’s publishing, it appears that this block of abandoned buildings has finally been demolished! This is a step in the right direction.
A major problem Coney Island suffers with is the lack of unification. The park consists of two parks: Luna Park and Deno’s Amusement Park, but the problem is that these are located on five separate city blocks, divided by four streets. These four dividing streets — West 10th, West 12th, Stillwell, and West 15th — south of Surf Avenue should be completely closed to traffic and parking, and would be converted to new lavish pedestrian plazas and spaces, lined with trees, benches, and other factors which would unite Coney Island once again. The various alleyways between the blocks, such as Jones Way and Bowery Street, would also receive this treatment, with broken pavement and asphalt being fixed, and vendors along these alleyways receiving renovations.
Another plot of land, currently functioning as a driveway for surrounding commercial buildings, currently exists on Surf Avenue between West 12th and Stillwell Avenue, sandwiched between the Lunatics Ice Cream parlor and the IT’SUGAR candy shop. As of October 2019, this plot was for sale by Thor Equities, the primary real estate owner in Coney Island. In our master plan to revitalize Coney Island, no plot of land will remain empty, and so this plot would have to be sold and a new commercial building would be built atop it.
For some odd reason, Coney Island possesses two go-kart tracks right near each other. The larger one, located between Stillwell Avenue and West 12th Street, consists of a spacious layout and is extremely popular during the summer, so this track would stay. The other track, however, which is the smaller one (and apparently known as “Circuito de Karts”) almost never receives business during the summer, rendering it redundant. This track, located east of the larger track on the adjacent block, and immediately west of the mini-golf course (which should stay), is unneeded in Luna Park and should be replaced with another large compact roller coaster.
Let’s return to that huge plot of land between Maimonides Park and the Thunderbolt. While the current expansion with the log flume ride is occurring there, this expansion actually only takes up a little more than a third of the entire plot, as you can see in the photo below. This means that the other almost-two-thirds of the plot still lay empty, and are ripe for development. This plot is reserved for amusement-related zoning, and so, it would be ripe for further Luna Park expansion.
The remaining area of the plot would be a fantastic location for Zamperla’s new Double Heart roller coaster. Zamperla, an Italian amusement ride and roller coaster manufacturer, possesses a partnership with Luna Park. As a result, almost all of Coney Island’s rides and roller coasters are manufactured by Zamperla, and so, this plot of land would be perfect for their new Double Heart coaster, which was unveiled at the 2021 IAAPA Expo.
The Double Heart Coaster, which comes in 50 meter-tall (164 feet) and 70 meter-tall (229 feet) versions, features three launches, twisting vertical drops, inversions, and other thrilling features. While the 70 meter version would certainly fit within the plot of land, as according to Zamperla it is only 19 meters wide by 120 meters long (62 feet by 393 feet), I believe the 50 meter version would be more suitable for this plot of land, as the 50 meter version is only 18 meters wide by 70 meters long (59 feet by 229 feet).
The plot of land is over 150 feet wide, and over 600 feet long, even with the new expansion being built at the southern end of the plot. Thus, a 50 meter Double Heart coaster would be a fantastic addition to Coney Island, and there would still be enough space around it for a couple more rides or another compact roller coaster, a la the Thunderbolt, as seen in the photo above. Not to mention, the parking lot immediately east of the Cyclone is disused by the New York Aquarium, and is also ripe for redevelopment. This parking lot can be removed and a few more rides and thrill roller coasters can be added here, further expanding the park.
It’s unlikely that all of these will ever happen, but the probability that at least some of these will happen within the next few years is pretty high. The plot of land between Maimonides Park and the Thunderbolt lay empty for years and is now just beginning to be filled in, and so it won’t be empty forever. The plots of land and abandoned buildings along Surf Avenue most likely won’t last forever, and as demand for retail only increases, they will be built up.
In essence, the master plan for a revitalized Coney Island would consist of a closer ferry stop, unification of the park through the redevelopment of the cross-streets into pedestrian spaces, redevelopment of the surrounding area, and the removal of decaying buildings and plots of land within the park and replacing them with new rides and roller coasters. This new vision would see the addition of at least six new roller coasters and other rides, and tourists and nearby residents would have both easier access to Coney Island and new reasons to visit it, ushering in a new Golden Age for the area.
Now how thrilling would that be?
Chris is a writer and publisher who travels America, and loves doing it. He also loves pizza, video games, and sports, and can tell you a thing or two about each. Follow him on Medium to be informed of new articles.