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Threatened Coney Island Boardwalk Businesses Get a New Lease on Life — Except One

December 8, 2021 Gabriel Sandoval, THE CITY
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This article was originally published on by THE CITY

Attractions along Coney Island’s boardwalk will be getting a new lease on life under a pending city deal to extend rides and other businesses another decade — save for a boutique known for quirky creations celebrating the Brooklyn amusement haven.

To help aid the iconic seaside destination’s pandemic recovery following a lost 2020 season, the city Economic Development Corp is proposing a 10-year extension for the operators of Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park.

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Those extensions require City Council approval — an opportunity EDC and a local Council member used to make sure longtime shops and restaurants that faced steep rent hikes pre-pandemic can stay put past 2027, with a dip in their rent payments.

“We wanted to see more favorable terms for the subtenants,” said Councilmember Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn), who represents the area. “We need a win-win for the subtenants and Luna Park.”

Treyger said the restaurants Paul’s Daughter, Tom’s Coney Island and Ruby’s Bar & Grill, as well as the retailer Brooklyn Beach Shop, are poised to sign what he calls “favorable” subleases with Luna Park owner Central Amusement International ahead of a scheduled Dec. 16 Council vote.

“I see it as relief, obviously financially, but mentally, honestly, because if I continue with my existing lease I don’t know if I can afford it,” said Maya Haddad Miller, co-owner of Brooklyn Beach Shop.

According to Miller, her amended lease expires in 2037 and offers more favorable terms than the one she signed in early 2020, with a rent reduction through 2029.

But one longtime boardwalk name is missing from the roster: Lola Star, a narrow gift shop selling original T-shirts and other unique Coney souvenirs.

Lola Star owner Dianna Carlin had been facing a 400% rent hike pre-pandemic and said she has not been offered a renewal — or heard from anyone about the pending deals until THE CITY called.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
The Lola Star gift shop, center, on the Coney Island boardwalk was shuttered along with other non-essential businesses in spring 2020.

“I am disappointed and confused about why I was excluded from the other boardwalk tenants that they are assisting and helping in negotiating a fair deal,” Carlin said. “So we are horrified to say the least.”

A Wild Ride

Luna Park’s current lease dates back to 2010, after the administration of Mayor Mike Bloomberg bought the land and undertook a rezoning intended to turn Coney into a year-round destination.

The leases for Luna Park and Deno’s originally ran through 2020, as a temporary measure to kickstart a Coney revival. In 2013, the Council agreed to extend them through 2027.

The new lease extension would push back the expiration back again, from 2027 to 2037 — though it still designates the arrangement as “interim.”

“An extension will provide economic stability while we continue our long-term investment in Coney Island as New York City recovers from the unprecedented pandemic and its devastating effects,” Alessandro Zamperla, CEO of Central Amusement, said during a Council hearing on the proposed amendment Thursday.

Dennis Vourderis, co-owner of Deno’s, seconded the importance of the lease extensions in his testimony. “We want to continue our long-term investment in Coney Island, and this lease will help us do that,” he said.

In a statement, an EDC spokesperson said the amendment will help small businesses along the boardwalk.

“The resulting lease and sublease extensions will afford them greater stability, enable them to better recover from the pandemic, and help them engage in long-term investments beneficial to the Coney Island community,” said the spokesperson, Mary Mueller.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
Workers made repairs to Deno’s Wonder Wheel during the coronavirus outbreak, May 7, 2020.

In addition to the Council, the extension will also need to be approved by EDC’s board and the mayor.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the amusement district closed for an entire season for the first time ever. The shutdown coincided with what should have been celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Deno’s Wonder Wheel, a major draw.

Business along the historic boardwalk suffered. A co-owner of Ruby’s Bar & Grill, Michael Sarrel, said his restaurant earned 70% less in 2020 than the year before.

“We were able to still do some business because we had outdoor space,” Sarrel told THE CITY, noting that his eatery fared relatively better than ones that did not.

A ‘Good Faith’ Plea

At Thursday’s Council hearing, an EDC official said the proposed lease extension would help businesses “recoup losses incurred because of the government closures and will support their continued efforts and investment in the amusement area.”

By approving the proposal, “the Council will ensure that the unique and iconic Coney Island Amusement area and community continues to thrive for future generations,” said the official, Sean Freas, EDC’s vice president of portfolio management.

During the pandemic, Central Amusement approached EDC for a lease extension through 2040 to help get support from lending institutions as well as maintain long-term security, the Brooklyn Paper reported last October.

At the time, an EDC spokesperson said: “Any lease extension without a competitive process raises issues of fairness.”

THE CITY reported this spring that Luna Park has delayed a planned expansion, including a new “adventure park” and water flume ride, originally set for 2019 and 2020 but now promised for next year.

Treyger said he insisted that Central Amusement’ subtenants also benefit from an extension because they were an “afterthought” in the 2009 Bloomberg plan.

Treyger said there’s still time for Zamperla and Lola Star to agree on a lease.

“But folks have to negotiate really in good faith on both sides,” he said.

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