City may cede Boardwalk to outside control

November 13, 2014 Meaghan McGoldrick
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The control of the Coney Island Boardwalk may be up for bid, according to sources who tell this paper that the city’s Parks Department – which currently oversees the historic 91-year-old Riegelmann Boardwalk – is considering passing the torch to an outside group or organization.

“We are considering an RFP [request for proposal] with many different elements,” Parks Department Spokesperson Maeri Ferguson told this paper. “At this point, we aren’t sure if and when it will be issued. If we were to do so, per our procedures, we would notify the community board.”

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Local pols and residents alike seem wary of the prospect.

“This is public land and, in my opinion, an international icon,” said Coney Island Councilmember Mark Treyger. “The Parks Department has not discussed this upcoming RFP with me at this point but I plan to pursue discussion with them to get clarity on what exactly they are looking to do. I want to know three things: What is the background; what is the purpose; and what is the desired outcome?”

On top of that, he said, those answers must be in line with the public interest.

“For many years, the Parks Department has neglected the maintenance of the Boardwalk, of the bathrooms and of the beaches and there is a precedent for local groups – for example, the Prospect Park Alliance – working with Parks to better serve that park,” said Treyger. “I do not support privatizing a public treasure but I do believe that there can be fruitful discussion regarding partnership with local groups.”

“What we’re most concerned about is that this is a precedent for parks throughout the city of New York,” said Ida Sanoff, Brighton Beach resident and executive director of Natural Resources Protective Association. “The Boardwalk is parkland. If you commit one concessionaire to have control over parkland, then anybody else can decide to do it. What happens if someone in Manhattan Beach wants to make a private beach club? There’s no limit. It’s opening Pandora’s box.”

Sanoff first heard rumors a month ago and has since heard speculation that points to the Coney Island Alliance as one of the most viable applicants.

“According to the rumors we have heard, the RFP is scheduled to come out this month, and it’s written in such a way that only certain people can meet the criteria,” she said. “Friends groups are good at getting community events done, so why privatize? Why bring in separate management to do the work of the Parks Department? So we’re very concerned about this, not just in Brooklyn, but across the city and anyplace that there’s a boardwalk or beach or park.”

“It’s not going to be anything free for the city,” noted Marty Levine, former executive director of the Friends of the Boardwalk and former chair of Community Board 13. “Of course [the Coney Island Alliance] would like to see the Boardwalk maintained properly to benefit business but I don’t know if they have the money to pay for it so the money will come from the city one way or another.”

President of the Bensonhurst West End Community Council Carmine Santa Maria agreed. “Why would anybody want control of the Boardwalk unless there’s a profit in it?” he asked.

Chuck Reichenthal, the district manager of Community Board 13, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. By press time, the Alliance for Coney Island had not responded to a request for comment.

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