New York's Coney Island is one of the Big Apple's most visited attractions. Its beach, boardwalk and amusement park have been attracting visitors for more than a century. But its largest theme park -- Astroland -- is set to close at the end of the summer season to make way for a $250 million re-development project. Nathan King reports for VOA.
All the fun of the fair: Coney Island's Astroland is about as far from the glitz and glamour of the modern day theme park as you can get.
The Cyclone roller coaster first opened back in 1926. Like it, Coney Island and much of the surrounding area has been in decline for many years.
This corner of Brooklyn was America's first resort attraction, bringing in millions of New Yorkers right through the 1960s. Then fires, bankruptcies and urban decay set in. But now there are plans to restore that lustre.
Drwaings show artists' impressions of a Coney Island for the 21st century. It is part of a $2 billion makeover that will turn Coney Island into a world-class theme park.
But the plans also envisage big hotels, condominiums, and apartments, far from what Coney Island feels like today.
Carol Albert and her family have owned Astroland for the past 45 years, but they recently sold it to real estate developer Thor Equities. And so, reluctantly, they will close the park at the end of this summer. "We thought as we can't develop it and since he has now bought up everything but two blocks we were going to be surrounded by demolition and construction,” says Albert. “We really thought we would lose most of our business."
Many who have grown up in this section of Brooklyn want to preserve the family feel of Coney Island. It is easily accessible by subway. The rides are cheap and there is no entrance fee to the park.
Stan Fox is a Brooklyn resident and local historian. "You can spend a dollar, a hundred dollars or nothing if you just want to walk the boardwalk, just bring a bottle of water with you and you can have a great time," says Fox.
The five kilometer-long beach, just a subway ride from Manhattan, is still a magnet for tourists in the summer, but in the winter less so. Municipal authorities want a year-round attraction.
Vendor Paul Georgoulakos has worked here since emigrating from Greece, and he says the time is right to restore glory to this faded icon. "Coney Island, you know it was the dream of the whole world in those days, and now," he says shrugging, "it got smaller and they try to build it back again."
Currently Thor Equities is in negotiations with the city and neighborhood groups to reduce the number of apartments and condominiums the developer wants to build.
But those, like Carole Albert, who have spent their lives here want New Yorkers to have a Coney Island they still recognize as their own.
"This is New York after all. New Yorkers are tough. They can hang on to what they like. They want this boardwalk, they want this beach and they want it to be a democratic event and we all hope it will continue to be so."