Coney Island

Who will rescue the damaged Coney Island Boardwalk?

I hereby nominate John Catsimatidis, who’s building shoreline apartments.

September 25, 2019 Lore Croghan
Billionaire John Catsimatidis is building the Ocean Dreams apartments on the Coney Island Boardwalk. Would he consider funding a Boardwalk fix-up? Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Eye on Real Estate: There’s Adopt-a-Highway. Why not Adopt-a-Boardwalk?

The Coney Island Boardwalk’s wooden planks are in urgent need of repair just about everywhere except the amusement park zone. In a New York minute, a civic-minded business owner could come up with the cash to fix up the famous span and create a reserve fund to keep it in good shape thereafter.

What an excellent gift that would be for the residents of Coney Island and Brighton Beach, who go to the boardwalk year-round to exercise and enjoy the shore’s serenity.

The Riegelmann Boardwalk, as the city landmark is formally named, is 2.7 miles long, so there’s a lot of mess. In a better-run city, the words “landmark” and “mess” would not be uttered in the same sentence.

The mess presents trip-and-fall hazards for elders, joggers and little kids. Even people who really try to be careful about where they step sometimes stumble and get hurt.

So Brooklyn residents, it’s time to nominate candidates for the role of Adopt-a-Boardwalk benefactor.

My nomination is the Coney Island shoreline’s new landlord, billionaire and 2013 Republican mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis.

Would billionaire John Catsimatidis, seen here during his 2013 Mayoral campaign, like to Adopt-a-Boardwalk? AP photo by Craig Ruttle
Would billionaire John Catsimatidis, seen here during his 2013 mayoral campaign, like to Adopt-a-Boardwalk? AP photo by Craig Ruttle

His company, Red Apple Group, has just about finished exterior construction work on two luxury residential towers clad in gleaming glass with bright-white trim. The company calls this 425-unit market-rate rental development Ocean Dreams.

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This idea of Catsimatidis becoming Coney Island’s benefactor got stuck in my brain and wouldn’t go away. I decided to ask him if he would consider it.

I reached out through emails, tweets and phone calls. And the other day, Catsimatidis called me. 

Our conversation was brief. I told him about the most seriously damaged section of the boardwalk and asked if he’d consider funding its repair. He asked me to send him a story I recently wrote about the boardwalk’s problems.

Several hours later, I checked with his office and was told he hadn’t had a chance to read it. That was a week ago. I haven’t heard back from him.

I hope Catsimatidis is thinking about funding a boardwalk fix-up. Some ideas take time to percolate.

A few blocks away from Red Apple Group’s new apartment complex, a plywood deck stretches over the damaged Coney Island Boardwalk. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
A few blocks away from Red Apple Group’s new apartment complex, a plywood deck stretches over the damaged Coney Island Boardwalk. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

A landmark covered with a slippery plywood deck

The damaged section of the boardwalk that I wanted Catsimatidis to know about is a three-block span of wood planks between West 24th Street and West 27th Street. It is located a short walk away from his Ocean Dreams development.

Instead of fixing the wood planks, the city Parks Department built a plywood deck over them. It has been there since Superstorm Sandy — which happened almost seven years ago.

The painted plywood is aging badly. There are wood patches nailed on top of it that you could trip over. In cold weather, ice forms on the plywood. People slip and fall.

When I wrote about this boardwalk problem spot, I asked the Parks Department when it was going to get fixed.

A spokesperson for the agency would only say the Parks Department is considering whether it would be financially feasible to undertake a capital project to do these repairs.

The landmarked Parachute Jump looks picturesque. The plywood deck over the damaged Coney Island Boardwalk does not. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
The landmarked Parachute Jump looks picturesque. The plywood deck over the damaged Coney Island Boardwalk does not. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Earning the neighbors’ goodwill

Picking up the tab for boardwalk repairs could be considered a justifiable expense for Catsimatidis’ company, Red Apple Group, because a truly walkable boardwalk would be a big, wonderful amenity for the tenants of the Ocean Dreams complex.

As amenities go, it would be even more impressive than the indoor pool that’s being built at Ocean Dreams.

Footing the bill for boardwalk repairs could also be considered a justifiable company expense because it would build goodwill with Ocean Dreams’ neighbors, who include residents of NYCHA developments and seniors facilities.

If Red Apple Group paid for a fix-up of the full length of the boardwalk, the company would also earn the goodwill of seniors and immigrants on the Brighton Beach end of the walkway.

Or, instead of having his company pay for boardwalk repairs, would Catsimatidis consider footing the bill himself as an act of personal philanthropy?

Be careful where you walk on the Coney Island Boardwalk’s patched-up plywood deck. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Be careful where you walk on the Coney Island Boardwalk’s patched-up plywood deck. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

His website says he is “a firm believer in giving back to the community.” Wouldn’t fixing the boardwalk be a great way to do this? It’s world famous, but so damaged.

Other wealthy people have been benefactors to the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and other borough icons. Doesn’t the landmarked boardwalk, which has played a role in brightening people’s lives since 1923, deserve a benefactor, too?

The Ocean Dreams development

Here’s some more info about Red Apple Group’s Ocean Dreams development.

The two buildings whose exteriors are nearly completed are each 21 stories high and stand on a podium. They look like glamorous transplants from Miami Beach.

They stand right on the Coney Island Boardwalk.

The twin-tower complex, which Hill West Architects designed, is bordered by West 35th and West 36th streets. It has frontage on Surf Avenue and thus 3514 Surf Ave. is one of its addresses.

City Buildings Department records also refer to the two towers as 1 Ocean Drive and 2 Ocean Drive. By the way, Ocean Drive is the name of the coolest street in Miami’s coolest neighborhood, namely South Beach.

There are broken planks and exposed nails on many other sections of the Boardwalk besides the plywood-covered part. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
There are broken planks and exposed nails on many other sections of the boardwalk besides the plywood-covered part. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

In a 2018 New York Times interview, Catsimatidis said he wants to construct three more apartment towers at the Ocean Dreams complex.

That means he could wind up with a massive number of tenants. Like their thousands of neighbors, they’re going to want to walk and jog on the boardwalk without fear of tripping and falling on that nearby plywood deck.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

Eye on Real Estate is veteran reporter Lore Croghan’s weekly column on Brooklyn’s built environment. Whether it’s old as Abraham Lincoln or so new it hasn’t topped out yet, if a building is eye-catching, @EyeBrooklyn will show it to you.

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5 Comments

  1. Orlando Mendez

    Catsimatidis recently Funded the new Ramps leading up to the Reigelmann Boardwalk from his 2 nearly completed Ocean Dreams Tower’s on West 35th and 36th Street and in fact he also Constructed the Ramps.

    The issue on hand is the fact that the new Ramps were Constructed to the NYC Park’s Department Specifications of Concrete to match the Ramp that Park’s constructed at West 33rd Street 4 year’s ago.

    Catsimatidis agreed to do so without advising or Consulting Community Board 13.
    Even if Catsimatidis Funded the Project and even Constructed it with his own Contractor’s, the Park’s Department would most likely hold him to the Specifications of Plastic and Concrete like that on the East End of the Reigelmann from Coney Island Avenue to Bay 1.
    The vast majority of the Coney Island Community that Loves and Cherishes our Wooden Boulevard want it remain Real Wood.

  2. Who is responsible for destroying the boardwalk? The answer is simple! Department of Parks! They use the boardwalk as a highway to ride heavy vehicles back and fourth. Boardwalk has been designed for pedestrians only, not to ride a “repair van” to fix one plank and damage hundreds on its way.

  3. bklyn wunder

    This is a really awful idea. Do you think Catsimitides will do this out of the goodness of his heart, because he is such a civic minded person? He is already spreading the word that he wants to privatize the beach in front of his Ocean Dreams for the exclusive use of his residents. If he somehow shells out the millions to fix the boardwalk, he will want something in return and that is a private beach. This is not as crazy as it sounds. When the Oceana condos in Brighton Beach first opened, they tried to make their beach private.

    Re: CB 13, Community Boards are advisory. Meetings are public. I see a lot of people complaining about neighborhood issues on blogs and Facebook, but I have yet to see them come to any local meeting set up by the responsible agencies, or a Community Board meeting for that matter, to try and do something.

  4. Catherine

    This is a terribly misguided and uninformed article. Didn’t you see the rendering for Catsimatidis Ocean Dreams showing a very privatized looking beach in front of his new building and the additional ones he wants to build? Signage spelling out “Ocean Dreams” multiple times and very chic looking arrangement of chaise lounges, tents and umbrellas mark out his territory on what is a public beach. https://www.6sqft.com/coney-islands-new-ocean-dreams-rental-towers-topped-out-to-open-next-summer/

    Your article didn’t mention Catsimatidis needs a variance from the city to build more hi-rise apartments, which you describe as “glamorous transplants from Miami Beach.” As the article linked above says: “On a smaller parcel just to the west, approval has already been secured for an 11-story apartment building. Catsimatidis’ grander vision for two more towers to the east, notably taller than the pair that just topped out, have stalled due to current zoning that only allows four- or five-story structures.” Funding boardwalk repair would look like the real estate developer was aiming to privatize the boardwalk and the beach and buy a variance with his contribution. Not a good look! No wonder he seemed reluctant to respond to you.

    Finally, the “boardwalk” in front of Ocean Dreams is not made of wood but concrete blocks. With the approval of the Public Design Commission, the city’s future plan is to redo all of the boardwalk, with the exception of a few blocks in the amusement area, with plastic wood and a concrete roadway for city vehicles. It is the NYC Parks and NYPD and other city vehicles driving up and down the boardwalk that cause the damage to the boardwalk. Would suggest you look into it and leave philanthropy to the philanthropists.