Dianna Carlin should be finishing the book she is writing about the joys of owning the Lola Star boutique, a “really small little magic shop” on the Coney Island boardwalk, for the past 19 years.
Instead, Carlin has been anxious and fearful since his landlord offered him a new lease a few weeks ago, with a rent increase of 400 percent. “I wonder if I should start ordering the” close the business “posters,” he said.
In the summer, Brooklyn’s Coney Island is filled with swimmers and fun seekers, but in winter it tends to be much quieter.
More than a decade ago, New York City promised a year-round destination with a water park, a stadium, an ice skating rink and millions of dollars in residential and commercial investment.
At the same time, said then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, cheap restaurants and family stores would be protected. The then president of Brooklyn County, Marty Markowitz, said in 2005 that the plan would preserve “Coney’s famous madness and his fun-loving spirit.”
But like many great plans for New York, the whole vision has not materialized. Coney Island was ceremoniously desolate on a recent January afternoon, far from the bustling attraction that was promised throughout the year. Roaring winds sprouted through the famous roller coasters such as the Cyclone and the Luna Park Obstacle Course, but not by an ice skating rink or water park. Those wonders were never built.
And now, in front of the gentrification steamroller, even the peculiar Coney Island circus show could be forced to face an uncertain future.
“They are trying to turn the People’s Peopleground into the playground for the rich,” Carlin said.
Ms. Carlin and the owners of five other small businesses in Coney Island: Nathan’s Famous, Ruby’s Bar & Grill, Paul’s Daughter, Tom’s Restaurant and Coney Island Beach Shop, have been negotiating new 10-year lease agreements with Zamperla, the fun Italian park maker that was hired by the city a decade ago to build and manage the Luna Park amusement area of Coney Island, of which the companies are part.
The new terms of Zamperla: an increase of 50 to 400 percent in the rent of each of the businesses.
“I love Coney Island,” Carlin said. “Having this store on the waterfront is one of the most beloved things in my life. But there is no way I can afford that. ”
In a statement to the New York Times, Alessandro Zamperla, president of Zamperla, said: “We care about Coney Island and its future, and we are dedicated to making it as strong a community as possible. That’s why we have been working with our tenants to ensure their success and preserve the character of Coney Island. ”
Mr. Zamperla, who was traveling in Italy, refused to answer specific questions from The Times, but added that at least three of the six companies had agreed and signed their new lease agreements, and others were making “significant progress “.
The proposed rent increases in the six small businesses have revived a one-year tug of war for the soul of Coney Island.
In 2009, after a four-year confrontation over the best plan for a resurgence, the Bloomberg administration bought seven acres in the oppressed attractions district of developer Joseph J. Sitt for $ 95.6 million.
Mr. Bloomberg wanted to restore the district, which began to decline in the 1960s, at its peak promoting the development of shops and apartments along Surf Avenue. Companies that were open only in summer would go on a year-round schedule, which would help reinforce what Bloomberg imagined as the largest urban amusement park in the country.
The city leased the land to Zamperla, allowing it to open Luna Park in 2010, enter into its own lease agreements with small business owners and even demand that those companies give up part of their profits.
Dear beachfront businesses that did not fit Zamperla’s vision They were closed. Others, such as Mrs. Carlin’s boutique, which had been evicted by Mr. Sitt, returned.
By 2012, the revival was underway, and the crowds and income were growing. Carlin said his earnings increased almost 50 percent after Zamperla took over.
“Most people believe that it has developed in a manner consistent with the history of Coney Island,” said Seth W. Pinsky, the former president of the Economic Development Corporation, about the area.
Still, the attractions district is not operational throughout the year. Mark Treyger, the city councilor representing the part of Brooklyn that includes Coney Island, said he believed this was due to a shortage of investment by the city and Mayor Bill de Blasio in the 2009 goals.
“Companies just don’t know where the Blasio administration is taking Coney Island,” said Treyger. “There is a lack of vision or a holistic plan to improve the area.”
The broken promises, he said, gave Zamperla influence to place the burden on the tenants to help recover the wasted profits. These tenants “invested with the idea that this would be a year-round destination, with pedestrian traffic throughout the year, instead of three or four months a year,” Mr. Treyger added. “You cannot allow public lands to be armed in the name of greed to harm small businesses.”
Mrs. Carlin and dozens of other Coney Island workers protested the increase in income on the steps of the City Council in early December.
In an interview with The Times, a civil rights lawyer, Norman Siegel, described Zamperla’s rental decision as “excessive.” He said Mr. de Blasio should intervene.
The Blasio administration, Siegel said, should ask Zamperla to present more reasonable terms. “If that doesn’t happen,” he said, the city “should seriously think about getting the lease.”
Mr. Zamperla said that, in an attempt in good faith, he had extended the deadline for Ms. Carlin to sign her lease until Wednesday.
“Alessandro is on vacation in Italy while I’m working desperately to save my shop and my livelihood,” Carlin said.
Neither Mr. Zamperla nor the owners of the other five companies would comment on their leases, although several people with knowledge of the terms confirmed that the increases ranged between 50 percent for larger stores and 400 percent for the store smallest of Mrs. Carlin.
Carlin said he believed the other companies did not speak out of fear of reprisals. “They are afraid of being expelled,” he said.
To handle the increases, Carlin said, homeowners have mentioned raising property prices. He said a restaurant was making changes for the transition from a restaurant sitting to a fast food counter, to reduce costs.
Carlin said he has tried to plead with the city council several times, with calls, emails and protest last month, but it seems that little has changed.
“The city keeps telling me they can’t help and there’s not much they can do, but I don’t agree with that,” he said. “They are the owners of Zamperla.”
Mr. Siegel, the lawyer, said the increases were so heinous that they could be grounds for litigation. “There is some jurisprudence in which if the court decides that what they are doing is inordinate, that may be a claim in itself,” he said.
In the City Council, there have been no public indications of plans to withdraw the lease from Zamperla, or to intervene; The rent increases do not violate the agreement between the city and Zamperla.
Jane Meyer, spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, denied claims that the administration had no vision or plan for Coney Island. She said the city spent $ 180 million to improve the infrastructure of Coney Island in the last decade and that she planned to expand the ferry system from New York City to Coney Island by 2021.
“This administration is committed to maintaining the character of Coney Island and at the same time ensuring that it is equitable and prepared for the future,” Meyer said.
Mr. Siegel said he wondered who this future is for.
A Brooklyn native who grew up spending the summers on the waterfront, remembers with love having spent a dollar to ride the Cyclone and return home without appetite for dinner after eating Nathan’s famous sausages and fries.
“We have to fight to save Coney Island,” he said.