The Battle Over the Coney Island Casino Project Continues

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ELLEN GELLER KAMARAS  

 

Did you know that the Thor Equities Coney proposal is not the first attempt by developers to “revitalize” the Coney Island Boardwalk?  Casino gambling became legal in Atlantic City in 1976 and casino fever captivated Coney Island investors.  

Atlantic City and Coney Island have been competitors since the late 1800s when both vied for the title of best resort on the East Coast. For a short time during 1979, the asking price for Coney Island Boardwalk real estate increased from $3 to $100 per square foot in anticipation of a casino.   

At that time The Casinos for Coney Committee pushed to permit casino gambling in Coney Island, and a New York State Legislature proposal was considered. However, Donald Trump, son of developer Fred Trump, had casino interests in Atlantic City and was wary of potential competition. His father lobbied strongly against the Legislature’s proposal and the referendum was killed before it reached the voters.  

Recap 

Coney Island is one of three downstate gambling casino sites in the NYC area for which developers/gaming companies are bidding for licenses. 

A 40-page public engagement report was released on July 11 by the office of Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. It shows that his office received about three responses that are opposed to the Coney Project for every response in favor.  Over 200 people provided feedback. Reynoso is still undecided about the casino plan. 

 

The Coney Island casino’s champions envision the project providing increased employment, visitors, and money.  Opponents see minimal economic benefits. They point to the disappointing outcomes in Atlantic City, are wary of increased crime and traffic, and note the dangers of having only limited security resources.  They are also concerned about the harmful influence the casino would have on our children and families. 

Review of Key Points. 

The Coney details depend on a request for proposals (RFA) issued by the NYS Gaming Commission in January 2023. The approval process is expected to be lengthy, and no determinations will be made “until sometime later in 2023 at the earliest.”  

Joe Sitt, a real estate developer for Thor Equities, is hoping to be awarded one of the three downstate casino licenses 

Sitt’s goal is to turn Coney Island into a year-round destination instead of a summertime hangout primarily limited to the boardwalk.  Thor is expected to spend $3 billion to redevelop five acres that would include a casino, a roller coaster, an indoor water park, hotels, and museums.   

A Gaming Facility Location Board was tasked to oversee the application process and select the three NYC casino sites.  

After its review, the Board will make recommendations to the Gaming Commission, which is authorized to decide which licenses to award.  

The conditions required for the Gaming Commission to approve a casino application include gaining public support from community advisory committees as well as compliance with state and local zoning laws.  

Applicants to this RFA must first be approved by a community advisory committee and complete the municipal zoning process before the evaluation of any applications.  

The application process allows strong community opposition to defeat a casino bid before state regulators can even review the application. 

For each application, a local Community Advisory Committee was formed to hold public hearings and issue a formal finding of how much community support the proposed casino has. 

At least two-thirds of the committee members must approve the project before state regulators begin evaluating the application. 

  • On March 3rd, Thor’s consortium released renderings for “The Coney.”   
  • The PR is brimming with talk of “economic opportunity, “revitalization,” and “resiliency.” 

 

  • On March 6th, community leaders and activists voiced their views for and against The Coney. The United Front Against Displacement hosted a rally outside the YMCA before a planned meeting with Brooklyn Borough President Reynoso. 

 

  • Protests resumed against The Coney on April 19th. Almost 200 residents gathered at Gargiulo’s Restaurant for an open forum and collided over The Coney’s potential impact on their community. Most of the feedback was negative.  

 

Community Board 13 Chairperson of Coney Island, Lucy Diaz declared: “We don’t want what Atlantic City has. We’re already drowning in traffic half the year. Now you want to bring more traffic in?!” 

Robert Cornegy, a former NYC council member, is a consultant for The Coney and describes his support for the casino in altruistic terms, committing to an economic development agenda. He has knocked on over 16,300 doors to get 4,000 physical signatures in favor of the casino.  

Community Opposition 

 

On April 26th, Community Board 13 members voted online on an official resolution opposing the Coney Island casino.  The resolution passed by an overwhelming vote of 23-8, rejecting the casino proposal.    

The Community Board’s resolution is non-binding, has no legal bearing, and cannot singlehandedly stop the casino project.  However, Community Board 13 includes many local politicians who will have a legal say on the project in the future and the Community Board’s vote does not look promising for the project.  

Councilman Ari Kagan, one of these local politicians, backed the Community Board’s majority vote.  His arguments:  The Coney will bring more traffic, crime, and mental health problems. 

 

The Sephardic Community Federation took a firm stand against the proposed casino.  Spearheading the “No Coney Casino” initiative, the Sephardic Community Federation launched the website noconeycasino.com, urging all community members to join their cause by signing a petition protesting the casino’s approval.   

 

New Developments 

 

  • Thor is finishing its RFA and waiting for NYS to post a submission date. 

 

  • Thor expects its entertainment complex to bring approximately 4,000 union jobs to the neighborhood.  Cornegy believes they will be decent paying, year-round jobs in hospitality, hotel, and gaming.  

 

 

In response, Community Board 13 Chair Diaz says these jobs are not necessarily the best fit for the make-up of the community and wants more information including the percentage of jobs that will go to locals. 

 

New York City Housing Authority Housing:  Another concern is that approximately 11,000 of Community Board 13 residents including Coney Island/Brighton Beach live in NYC Housing Authority public housing.   

 

These residents are required to meet NYCHA lower income criteria to maintain their current rents and therefore may not want to apply for casino jobs.  Coney Island also has a large senior citizen population that only would be seeking part-time work so as not to put their Social Security benefits at risk. 

  

  • Immigrant Residents:  Two of the proposed casino sites are in working-class areas with large populations of immigrants.  In Flushing, some have united to fight the project, fearing that it will do more harm than good. Similarly, a rising number of Coney Island residents are against The Coney, claiming that it would usher in a wave of gentrification that would also destroy Coney Island’s unique character.  

 

The consortium continues to promote that The Coney will bring an economic boom and rejuvenate the iconic and aging boardwalk.  A political consulting firm, Red Horse Strategies, was recently hired to do PR for the project. 

 

NYC Mayor Adams has not backed any specific casino project.  One large hurdle is that NYC zoning laws currently do not permit casinos.  Mayor Adams’ Deputy Press Secretary C.K. Lutvak indicated that Adams’ City of Yes for Economic Opportunity zoning proposal would make it easier for the casino to be built. 

 

Jenny Hernandez, a 30-year-old Mexican immigrant, has lived in Coney Island since she was a child.  In her opinion, The Coney will destroy the cultural diversity of the area.  “They will push us out and push local business out.” 

 What Can You Do? 

Sign the “No Coney Casino” petition electronically, which takes only 30 seconds. Go to noconeycasino.com and simply click where it says, “Sign the petition.” 

 

Contact the officials below to find out who is representing you at the Community Advisory Committee meetings.   

 

Communicate your Questions and Concerns to: 

NY State Senator Jessica Scarcella-Spanton, 718-727-9406.  

Assemblyman Michael Novakhov (District 45), 718-743-4078. 

Local City Council member Ari Kagan (District 47), 718-307-7151. 

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, 718-802–3700. 

Mayor Eric Adams, 311. 

Governor Kathy Hochul, 518-474-8390. 

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.  Ellen is active in her community and is currently the Vice-President of Congregation Bnai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights.  She can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).