In a cleanup similar to that of Times Square two decades ago, Coney Island is shedding its seedy amusements for new tourist-attracting retail brands, G-rated entertainment and dreams of huge residential and commercial developments. According to Crain’s, Coney Island’s Luna Park saw 640,000 visitors last year, a number that hadn’t been reached since the Steeplechase Park closed in 1964. The annual Mermaid Parade attracted 750,000 people last month.
Larger crowds are paving the way for new developments, and in turn, new developments are attracting bigger crowds every year. “The momentum is real,” Dick Zigun, the organizer of the Mermaid Parade, said. “Coney’s hit a critical mass.” Restaurants are on their way too: the Dumbo pizzeria Grimaldi’s opened a Coney Island location last month and the Prospect Heights diner Tom’s Restaurant recently signed an eight-year lease on the boardwalk.
In 2009 the Bloomberg administration rezoned Coney Island to allow more shops and residential buildings to open, and promised approximately $150 million in infrastructure upgrades in the area. The city also bought seven acres of prime Coney Island real estate from developer Joseph Sitt for nearly $100 million that it wants to use to revive the graying park.