01 April 2007

Astroland Blasts Off For the Last Time

Coney Island opened for business on Sunday, April 1, beginning the final summer that Astroland will grace the boardwalk, the property having been sold to Joe Sitt and Thor Equities, save the landmarked Cyclone, which will still be operated by the Albert family. Sitt wants to reinvent the park, making it all slick and nice and Six-Flagy—truly anti-Coney attributes.

The day was chilly and overcast, with rain threatening throughout. Still, there was a crowd of a few hundred on the boardwalk. Miss Coney Island was on hand, a sunny young blonde woman with some impressive Slavic cheekbones, and wearing a full-length fur coat to ward off the cold.

Marty Markowitz, of course, showed up to cut the ribbon at the park, as well as at nearby Deno's. He's an ebullient, boosterish fellow and it's hard not to like him. Still, I've never seen a man who so exuded the buffonish aura of the machine pol.

A raffish, ramshackle parade of misfits, with some frankly sexual majorettes, sauntered through the Astroland grounds. Nathan's was noisy and bustling. And an old sinner who ran a balloon dart game effortlessly conned me and my son out of eight dollars when we planned to spend just two. Nice to know Coney hasn't yet lost all of its seedy, grifter charm.

Truth be told, I spent most of my time not in Astroland but at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, since that park's kiddie rides and games are more suited to my son. There, a portly, gray-haired old guy in a blue windbreaker and sunglasses latched onto me and gave me an earful of what was going on in Coney, and what was going to happen in the future. He was born and bred in Coney and seemed to be an insider of sorts, given the way to passed in and out of Deno's before it was officially open. He said, as a kid, he mastered all the boardwalk games. He passed his skills on to his daughter, teaching her how to throw, shoot, bowl and whatever during the off-season so that she's clean up in summer. She became so good, most of the vendors banned her from their games.

Anyway, he told me Sitt's continual claims that he can't make money on a new amusement park without building some condo towers to back it up was, in a word, bullshit. The proof? The Vourderis family that runs Deno's. "Do they make a living?!" he replied to my apparently stupid question. "A great living!" He seemed sure that Thor's dream of a wall of condos is dead, and not just because the City doesn't want to give Thor the zoning change to build them. "Are you going to spend a half a million on an apartment that sits over an amusement park that operates well into the night, every night?" Good question, I had to admit. My Man on the Boardwalk even seemed doubtful that Thor would build the lavish amusement park they're promising. Rather, they'll flip the properties and skedaddle. Don't know how accurate any of these assertations are, but he seemed to know his stuff. And it made me glad to hear it.

Also, I was interviewed by a Japanese television station about the closing of Astroland. I kept telling them they were standing in Deno's, not Astroland, but they didn't seem to get it.

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