Governor Kathy Hochul has directed Empire State Development to begin preparing a sweeping revitalization plan for the storied Coney Island section of New York City — in what is expected to be a five year capital investment plan that could total $1 billion in public infrastructure, expended over the 2023 to 2028 fiscal years.
The Governor’s vision for the waterfront neighborhood and summertime hotspot would double the acreage of its beach-scape, construct a massive Santa Monica-style amusement pier, enhance the boardwalk, and fund a slew of pedestrian-oriented streetscape improvements along the neighborhood’s commercial strips.
“Why are there no trees along the boardwalk,” the Governor asked a city official last week. Hochul has directed urban designers to look at Venice Beach’s waterfront, with its outdoor gyms and recreational features, for inspiration. “Shade is important if we want older folks to enjoy this beautiful waterfront. I want this boardwalk to be lined with broad-branched trees to provide a leafy canopy to protect sitting areas and pedestrians strolling on the boardwalk.”
Hochul wants the State to construct overhead gondolas that operate like enclosed ski lifts to link Coney Island with Staten Island, Breezy Point, and Dyker Beach. It’s unclear if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority or the State Parks Department will be tasked with constructing and operating the leisure transport systems, which are expected to be quick to construct, inexpensive to operate, and provide continuous loop transport that would be more convenient and less costly than ferry service alternatives.
The largest single spending component of the plan is dedicated to streetscape improvements that are intended to evolve the area’s commercial strips — which are currently automobile oriented — into far more pedestrian friendly environments that encourage foot traffic and densely nestled storefronts. Those projects will include traffic-calming cobblestone streets, wider sidewalks, mature tree canopies, way-finding signage, improved lighting, new street fixtures, and public art.
A major focal point of the project will be the construction of a 600,000 square foot pier that will accommodate a slew of amusement attractions, including roller coasters. It’s thought that the State Parks Department will take the lead in constructing the pier, with the intention of finding a concession and parks contractor to operate it. Administration officials insist that the pier will be open to the public, with tickets required only of individual amusement rides.
It’s unclear if a new boardwalk-style casino could be part of the revitalization plan — a prospect that would generate $100 million a year in excise tax revenue for the State and create more than 3,000 permanent full-time jobs in the neighborhood, which Hochul expects to be easily unionizable.
The Mohegan Nation, which operates the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, is rumored to be interested in a Coney Island casino.
Hochul is in talks with MLB to land Brooklyn an expansion franchise, in a cost-neutral plan for taxpayers. If the Governor — who is being aided in the talks by Senator Chuck Schumer — is successful, the team’s ballpark will anchor the neighborhood’s revitalization. That stadium’s construction could cost between $1 billion and $2 billion, though Hochul’s financing plan would not burden taxpayers. The infilling of Coney Island Creek will create an ample site for the venue within walking distance of three MTA stations.
“Coney Island is an iconic American destination, and it plays a special role for folks in New York City who spend much of their summer there,” a Hochul advisor explains. “This will deliver substantial quality of life improvements to the people of Brooklyn and Queen in particular.”
Perhaps most ambitiously, the plan would infill the remainder of Coney Island Creek to address the area’s ongoing flood vulnerabilities. Most of the Creek was filled in during the 1930s to allow for the construction of the Belt Parkway, and more fill was added in 1962 with the construction of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The creek would be replaced with hundreds of acres of new lushly-landscaped waterfront park space — with sweeping views of Gravesend Bay and the Verrazano Narrows.
That space, along with the adjacent Calvert Vaux Park, would be the subject of a public design competition that will solicit proposals from landscape architects around the world.
Vaux, a landscape architect, spent 40 years of his career in New York City, working alongside Frederick Law Olmsted and designing numerous public spaces, including Central Park and Prospect Park. Hochul believes that a namesake public space should meet the architectural standard that fits his legacy.