Archive for the tag 'thor equities'

Source: Daniel P. Fleming via Flickr

Source: Daniel P. Fleming via Flickr

For better or worse, New York City is the land of constant renewal. Over the last century, newer and higher skyscrapers overshadowed older ones, poor and working class neighborhoods transformed into expensive and trendy hotspots and the luxurious beachfront resorts of Coney Island evolved into an amusement center and then a source of urban blight. The long and winding history of the development of Coney Island real estate and its future is tracked in a great primer  by Salon.

We have spilled a lot of digital ink on the history of Coney Island, starting with the competing resort days of Manhattan and Brighton Beach, the days when the area was the source of bizarre spectacles like the public electrocution of an elephant and the efforts of those who failed to transform the area into a glittering paradise after it fell into decay.

Salon’s article, though, tackles the onset of modernity, and the woes it caused at the People’s Playground:

This was once a singular place, an amusement park so grand and unusual that on an average weekend in its heyday, visitors mailed a quarter-million postcards to friends and relatives. Luna Park, the flagship attraction that burned down in 1916, drew nearly 100,000 attendees each day. By the time the subway reached Stillwell Avenue, in 1918, the area drew still more visitors. Weegee’s iconic 1940 image of Coney Island beachgoers jammed together like sardines today hangs in restaurants up and down the boardwalk, a memento of the glory days.

In the ensuing decades, population loss, television, cars and air conditioning undercut Coney Island’s appeal. New York’s urban planning czar, Robert Moses, hated its tawdry arcades and thrill rides. He transformed the eastern end of the amusement district into a home for the relocated New York Aquarium. The housing projects with which he rebuilt Coney Island became some of the city’s most depressed and dangerous.

Jumping from Coney Island’s decay, the report delves into those who changed Coney Island through land use and zoning battles, property squatting and tenant evictions; the horrendous city planning pains that birthed the new New Coney Island, for better or for worse:

As the city grew rapidly in the ’90s, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani set his sights on Coney Island. Like [Robert] Moses before him, he bulldozed a roller coaster to build a recreational facility, this time a minor league ballpark for the Brooklyn Cyclones. The Bloomberg administration eyed the island as a potential site for the 2012 Olympics, and in 2003, commissioned the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) to examine the possibility of revising the restrictive C7 zoning that since 1961 had sheltered carnies and coasters (and a few vacant lots, as well) from market forces.

But a Brooklyn developer named Joe Sitt stole the limelight from CIDC, announcing a $2 billion plan in September 2005 that made the Las Vegas Strip look dull. Sitt had shrewdly purchased over a dozen acres of the old amusement park in anticipation of a rezoning gold rush, and hoped to bring in marquee clients like Dave and Buster’s, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and the Hard Rock Café.

It’s fair to say New Yorkers were horrified by Sitt’s plan — he responded by toning it down in later renditions — but what happened next was worse. Unable to build on his new land, Sitt chose instead to destroy it. Two years after his gaudy dreamchild was plastered on the cover of New York magazine, his development company, Thor Equities, began to evict tenants in what was both a premature move towards development and, many observers reckoned, an attempt to force the city’s hand. Coney Island grew barren. “They paved paradise to put up…. what exactly?” asked the Brooklyn Paper.

The present reality of Coney Island, influenced by Bloomberg’s efforts to redevelop and rezone seemingly the entire city, and the events of Superstorm Sandy, has attracted a corporate presence to the boardwalk, no matter how nauseating some might see it. Salon’s report touches on the fears some have of the quixotic spirit of the area being stamped out forever:

What’s in store for the amusement area? “We will never make Disney here,” CAI president Valero Ferrari told the New York Times, ”but it will be something more… refined, cleaner, a little more year-round, if that’s possible, with sit-down restaurants and sports bars.”

The company hired Miami Beach restaurateur Michele Merlo to re-envision the boardwalk, with plans that call for, among other things, a food court with international cuisine. “Maybe one day,” he said in an interview with New York 1, “you can come and read your book outside on this nice boardwalk, sit in nice comfortable chairs and have a nice cappuccino or ice coffee.”

The report is well worth soaking up and you can do so by clicking here.

Source: Senator Golden's offices

State Senator Marty Golden (Source: Senator Golden’s offices)

Subpoenas were issued to huge real estate firms that scored a windfall in tax breaks in legislation crafted by Republican State Senator Marty Golden and signed by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Moreland Commission, a group set up by Cuomo to investigate public corruption, is looking into how developers of ultra-rich hotel-condo towers gained the valuable breaks.

Previously, we reported on the dubious legislation sponsored by Golden, which allowed huge tax breaks for five Manhattan properties. The legislation is expected to save developers like Extell Development, Silverstein Properties and Thor Equities tens of millions of dollars. The bill, which enjoyed bipartisan support and was signed into law by Cuomo, tacked on the expensive properties to the city’s 421-A program, a measure designed to spur residential building construction in less-dense areas of the city and subsidize affordable housing. Projects like One57, which is a 1,004-foot luxury tower featuring penthouses on sale for more than $90 million, were initially excluded from the program until Golden and other state politicians voted to include four developments as an exception under the umbrella of 421-A benefits.

Extell Development, which is building One57, has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign chests of both Democrats and Republicans, spurring the Moreland Commission to look into the affair. The independent Moreland Commission was set up by Cuomo after state legislators failed to pass comprehensive anti-corruption measures this year.

The Wall Street Journal described how the impending investigation might bring to light the uncomfortably close relationship between state politicians and major real estate developers:

One person who examined a subpoena from the commission, known as the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, said the information requested was extensive, seeking emails and other communications with lobbyists and elected officials over multiple years relating to the tax break.

Kathleen Rice, Nassau County District Attorney and co-chairwoman of the commission, said the commission has begun issuing subpoenas, but she declined to say who received them or the topic of the inquiries. “We have not prejudged anyone or anything—we are going to follow whatever evidence we have, wherever it goes,” she said.

A spokesman for Extell said the company “will cooperate fully with any agency trying to improve government.”

The subpoenas could eventually help shed light on advocacy and lobbying by the real-estate and development sector, long a powerful force in Albany politics. Top landlords and their advocacy groups traditionally are prolific donors, contributing millions of dollars each election cycle collectively to the campaign committees of governors and influential members of the Legislature, and the outcomes of policies like taxes and rent regulation can cost—or make—them fortunes.

Golden and Assemblyman Keith Wright, the Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Assembly, may also be questioned during the investigation. When initially questioned by the press as to why the five properties were included under the umbrella of the 421a benefits, Golden and Wright both pleaded ignorance.

“These projects were ready to go,” Golden told the Daily News. “I’m not sure where they came from,” Golden said in response to who earmarked the developments for special favor.

“These five properties — it was important that they benefit from the piece of legislation probably, and I don’t know why, because some of the folks in the Senate wanted them to be included,” Wright told the Daily News.

Thor’s vision for its Surf Avenue properties. Source: Thor Equities

Thor Equities, the global urban real estate developer, has announced plans to rent parcels at reduced rates in its new building at the corner of Surf Avenue and Stillwell Avenue in an effort to encourage the growth of local small businesses in the area, according to a press release.

“Coney Island’s popularity has reached record proportions, but we can never forget what got us here – local, ahead-of-their-time business owners who brought flair, hipness and edge to the People’s Playground,” announced Thor CEO Joe Sitt, adding, “While it is wonderful that national chains are now coming to Coney, providing needed jobs and year-round revenue to the community, we must always remember the history of this iconic neighborhood.”

So far, reaction to this plan remains skeptical. Amusing The Zillion highlighted a 2008 New York Post article in which Sitt took severe measures against local Coney business operators, by clipping and changing their storefront locks on Christmas Eve, and hanging “For Lease” signs in their storefront windows. Has Sitt pulled a 180 on small businesses?

Another caveat in Sitt’s altruistic gesture to the local small business people of Coney Island is that the rents will only be slashed for 2013. Amusing The Zillion, recalling the documentary “Zipper,” noted that Sitt’s real plans for Coney Island’s future involves installing a series of national chains. In the documentary, Sitt listed Dave and Buster’s, the Hard Rock Cafe, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and Howie’s Game Factory as his choices to fill in and replace the Coney landscape.

Thor’s new one-story building is on the spot once occupied by the century-old Henderson Music Hall, a building that was demolished when the city re-zoned it in July 2009. Since being erected last January, the sleek and sterile-looking new building has since been covered with plywood decorated in the Coney Island style, promising “THE RETAIL RIDE OF A LIFETIME,” with info about leasing opportunities.

1752 Shore Parkway, the future home of BJ's (Source:

Our sister site Bensonhurst Bean has updated its story on Brooklyn Bay Center, a planned Thor Equities development at 1752 Shore Parkway that will have BJ’s as its primary tenant.

The development has received approval from the City Council, following positive recommendations from Community Board 11 and the Brooklyn Borough President. Though the project may be moving forward, there remain some lingering complications that Bensonhurst Bean was first to report on,  including concerns about increased automobile traffic, as well as a decrease in foot traffic in the area’s main streets.

But the approval is still welcome news for local leaders, who continue to tout the 250 unionized construction jobs the development will bring, in addition to the retail positions once it opens – not to mention the renovation of a currently dilapidated waterfront space, opening it up to the public.

To meet concerns about the traffic, Bensonhurst Bean reports, Assemblyman Peter Abbate is trying to nab state funding for traffic mitigation. Possible measures include relocating the Belt Parkway’s Bay Parkway exit east of its current location.

No word yet on Markowitz’s demand that Thor include a “destination restaurant” as a tenant on the property. We’re betting there won’t be one.

Proposed site of Brooklyn Bay Center, featuring BJ's Wholesale Club

Borough President Marty Markowitz gave the green-light to Thor Equities’ plans to build a shopping center near Ceasar’s Bay that would include a BJ’s Wholesale Club, but not without some caveats – the famously food-friendly beep is demanding a classy waterfront restaurant be among the complex’s four tenants. But with a notably toothless approval/recommendation process, we’re not holding our breath.

Find out what Markowitz wants, and why we don’t think it’ll ever happen.

The future site of Bensonhurst's BJ's Wholesale Club? Maybe. (Source:

Our little sister site has nabbed its first scoop! Bensonhurst Bean is reporting that Thor Equities – the developer behind much of Coney Island’s interim destruction – is a stone’s throw away from receiving the green light to build a BJ’s Wholesale Club along the Bensonhurst-Bath Beach waterfront.

Thor’s plan calls for a two-story 214,000-square-foot retail space near Caesar’s Bay Shopping Center. The four-unit commercial project, to occupy 1752 Shore Parkway (at Bay 38th Street), is being called Brooklyn Bay Center, and will house a BJ’s Wholesale Club, with three remaining retail units, including, they hope, a restaurant, on the second floor.

The plan went by Community Board 11 with nary a whisper in opposition, save for a long-time small business advocate who wants establishments like this to be built inside existing commercial corriders, driving foot traffic to area merchants.

The community is also asking for a few commitments from the developer, like the construction of a park, public access to the waterfront and even an Eco Dock.

The project goes before the Borough President tonight, at 5 p.m. in Borough Hall. His recommendations will be passed on to the Department of City Planning.

Oh, and the cherry on top for taxpayers? Assemblyman Peter Abbate is looking to secure state funds to relocate the eastbound Belt Parkway entrance further east to keep it clear of the development site.

Check out Bensonhurst Bean for the full story and to weigh in on the proposal.


Photo by Diana Taft Shumate via Amusing the Zillion

By Howard Simon

PEOPLE OF EARTH! Aliens are here, at Coney Island, and there are people shooting them!

Photo by Howard Simon

No, we’re not talking about early arrivals for The Mermaid Parade, but the ones coming from Hollywood. Not to worry, though, because those Men In Black will be here to protect it, with the man who makes their wardrobe “look good” leading the way.

Filming for Men in Black 3, starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin, began filming yesterday in the People’s Playground. As we told you before, they’ve headquartered in the historic Grashorn Building, saving it from potential demolition.

Now Amusing the Zillion is reporting that they’ve gussied up the boardwalk from West 12th Street to Stillwell Avenue for their time-travel twist, giving it a late-1960s look. Amusing the Zillion has more photos and details on that.

We went on location Wednesday to check out the area where the threequel will be shooting from May 2 to 5 and it was mostly calm before the Hollywood storm, except for an equipment truck on Surf Ave across from the Grashorn Building, and some production assistants on the watch. Most of the pink No Parking signs announcing the Men In Black 3 shoot are posted on West 10th Street and running the length of The Cyclone.

Grashorn Building in 1969.

Grashorn Building in 1969. Photo © Charles Denson via Coney Island History Project (and via Amusing the Zillion)

What more appropriate place in the world is there for the third installment of Men in Black III (MiB III) to be filmed than beautiful and bizarre Coney Island? And who better to save an endangered Coney Island building than Will Smith? (Ed. - Uh… anyone?)

The movie, centered around a top-secret agency that “polices, monitors and directs alien activity on Earth,” will see the return of original cast members Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, as well as Josh Brolin (who will play a younger Agent K, Tommy Lee Jones’ character, in a time travel twist). They’ll be be filming in Coney Island from May 2 to 6, according to a report by Amusing The Zillion, and Coney’s oldest building — the dilapidated Grashorn, on the corner of Surf Avenue and Jones Walk — has also been given a stay of execution from the clutches of Thor Equities.

Amusing The Zillion’s Tricia Vita further notes that construction workers are currently repairing the interior of the Grashorn for use as the crew’s location headquarters, so they’ll be pulling the structure out of the dredges. The Grashorn was erected in the 1880s, but has recently fallen into extreme disrepair and inhabitation by squatters, and was slated for demolition.

Bonus points? A retro ’60s transformation for the film’s time travel scenes will be incorporated into some of the buildings along Surf Avenue, Jones Walk and the Bowery, as well as on the Boardwalk and in Wonder Wheel Park. The film is slated for release on May 25, 2012.

MiB III, time travel, the ’60s and Coney Island? It’s time to whip my hair back and forth in joy.

Thor's vision for its Surf Avenue properties

We received the following e-mail from Save Coney Island, a group dedicated to, um, saving Coney Island. To give you the gist: in order to help preserve the district’s character, the group asked the Landmarks Preservation Committee to create a historic district that would protect many of the buildings on and around Surf Avenue from demolition. However, LPC is a notoriously slow agency, and developer Thor Equities is moving quickly to destroy the buildings before the LPC has a chance to evaluate them. Save Coney Island is trying to halt that from happening, and has created an action plan for residents to help stop “Thor’s Hammer” in mid-swing. You can learn more about Save Coney Island at their website. Below is their e-mail.

Last week, Thor Equities announced that it would immediately begin demolishing the historic buildings that it owns along Surf Avenue in the amusement district. This could mean the end of historic Coney Island. The threatened structures include the Grashorn Building (built in the 1880s), the Henderson Music Hall (built circa 1900), the Shore Hotel (built circa 1903), and the Bank of Coney Island (built circa 1923).

These buildings have great historical and cultural significance: They provide a link to the period of Coney Island’s emergence as the world’s greatest amusement area. They also offer tremendous potential to provide a unique Coney Island experience if they are restored and reused.

Don’t let Thor to destroy Coney Island’s history and ruin the amusement area for future generations.

Keep reading and see the action plan

(Under the Boardwalk Photo courtesy of Blue Jake website.)

What’s worse for Coney IslandThor Equities and overpriced condos or the porn industry? It seems that the People’s Playground is now being represented as a virtual adult playground.

Curbed and Gowanus Lounge reported that Thor Equities didn’t renew their Future of Coney Island website domain and so it fell into the hands of a Belgian porn glut that wants to bring whatever used to (still) happen(s) under the boardwalk onto the world wide web.

Now that term limits have been wiped out, former Mayor Giuliani just might feel the need to come back — and like he rid Times Square of its unwholesomeness and brought in Disney — he might want bring back Coney Island and wipe out this internet association.

I wonder if Disney might be convinced to transplant The Little Mermaid from Broadway to Coney Island. Now that’s what we call a revitalization!

[It is suggested that you hold yourself back from visiting the website under the new ownership, because as Curbed warns us, it will cause your computer to get bogged down with all sorts of problems -- unless, of course, you're into that kind of thing.]

Note: This post has been updated to include the name of the photographer for the picture above, Jake Dobkin.

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