On the Boardwalk

Coney Island’s Roller Coaster Ride: As Brooklyn’s Amusement Mecca Opens, Operator Zamperla SPA Takes Stock

Alberto Zamperla (Credit: Billy Gray)

With three days to go until the traditional Palm Sunday opening of Luna Park at Coney Island, the temperature was just above freezing.

Alberto Zamperla, 60, president and chief executive of the Italian amusement park operator and ride provider Zamperla SPA, steered The Commercial Observer into the company’s warm, modest offices across from the landmark Cyclone roller coaster.

A central hallway was lined with newspaper clippings that recount the area’s history as a summer retreat and amusement park destination.

“Coney Island, that marvelous city of lath and burlap, should always be approached by the sea, as then, and then only, can the beauty of this ephemeral Venice be appreciated,” began an article published on August 15, 1908, in Scientific American. “Landward, the trains run through squalid neighborhoods, and past the back of everything. Its best foot is put forward toward the sea.”

Coney Island peaked before cars and planes allowed New Yorkers to easily escape the city heat far outside the five boroughs. Its decay during the second half of the 20th century is as mythic as its halcyon days. Its boardwalk and amusement area rivaled the squalor of surrounding neighborhoods. The seaside was, to put it kindly, down at the heels. Read More

Year in Real Estate

Above and Beyond Hurricane Sandy

East Coast Begins To Clean Up And Assess Damage From Hurricane Sandy

FEMA spokesperson William Rukeyser described the ad-hoc, jumbled feel of the company’s impromptu space in the Forest Hills Tower like a scene from a hard-hit neighborhood, with hanging wires, antennas strapped to the ceiling, Post-It notes and sheets of paper with various instructions scattered about, and impromptu folding tables holding printers and other office equipment. Most seemed at a loss for words when assessing damages.

“It’s—It’s—It’s just a mess,” Durst Organization spokesperson Jordan Barowitz told The Commercial Observer less than a week after the storm hit, struggling to describe the destruction in Lower Manhattan. Read More

The Power Broker

Joe Sitt: International Man of Mystery

Joseph Sitt: International Man of Mystery.

Joe Sitt reclined in his office wearing the sly little smile of someone who knows something more than we do.

“Another retailer that we represent asked us if we could find them a space in Tehran,” he said.

Mr. Sitt seemed fascinated, not appalled (Mr. Sitt’s family is Syrian Jewish) or the least bit bewildered by the request.

“So many of the European retailers are operating stores in Iran,” the head of Thor Equities explained to The Commercial Observer. “We’re a little bit in a bubble in the U.S. Adolfo, Desigual, Mango, Diesel, I don’t remember which ones, but two out of four already have stores there. [In] Saudi Arabia, Mango already has 50 stores there. I have another request for Equador. Zara wants more stores in Venezuela. I’ve had requests for Russia. Those are some of the examples that show you the world is changing.”

Mr. Sitt can relate to clients like these, which he caters to through a relatively new arm of his real estate empire, a brokerage business called Thor High Street.
He too ventured off the beaten path to get where he is today; by many accounts one of the city’s most prolific and successful investors with a focus on retail properties. Read More

Sitt Readies for Coney Island Demolitions

A push by preservationists be damned, Coney Island landlord Joe Sitt appears to be near the start of property demolitions in the amusement hub’s central district.

Late last week, the Department of Buildings approved demolitions on two buildings: the Shore Hotel, built in 1903, and the Bank of Coney Island, built in 1923, according to Read More

Coney Island: Spirited Land of Hucksters

Something about Coney Island makes it “the perfect spot to reel in a sucker,” writes Kevin Baker, in a masterful article on Coney Island, Joe Sitt and the city’s redevelopment project in this week’s Village Voice:

Coney Island has always suffered from grandiosity. It is always going to be the next Newport, the next Read More

A Coney Constant

On Palm Sunday, the Coney Island Cyclone will clank, sputter and tilt into motion, careening its shrieking cargo around clattering curves and ushering in the new season. The whole neighborhood, rusty gears and all, will churn into motion, the same way it has for years. And like every other season in recent memory, Read More

Italian Amusement Ride Maker Nears Major Deal in Coney Island

Coney Island

Zamperla USA is close to signing a lease to operate 6 empty acres on Coney Island. The negotiations with the city’s Economic Development Corporation, first reported by NY1 News, are expected to be completed as soon as this week. Zamperla, an Italy-based manufacturer of amusement rides, operates Central Read More