Circus Amok did two shows in Coney Island yesterday--possibly the last time we'll be able to perform there. Thor Equities (along with Taconic, and soon maybe others,) has managed to buy up most of the land along Stillwell Avenue, promising to turn the area into a large, resort-style hotel, much in the vein of Las Vegas's Bellagio, surrounded by smaller amusements. Ideas that have been floated around--none of them confirmed or unconfirmed--are an indoor water park, 975 high-rise condos, retail shops galore, a man-made canal, and several other roller coasters to rival the historic Cyclone.
Even the developers continue to wrangle back and forth about what the area should become, and should be used for. Joe Sitt, the founder and chief executive of Thor Equities, said upon release of the newest set of plans: "This is our way of showing the New York community that we're responsive to what they want." But this is not what we want. What we want is Coney Island.
Coney Island for me is ten seasons of Circus Amok, loading tons of scaffolding and props onto West 10th Street, under the rickety roar of the Cylcone--still at 80 years old one of the world's greatest roller coasters. It is the winter that Chris and I walked on the beach, in the snow, and had our pictures taken. It is the year when I passed out on the subway after a day in the sun with too little to eat. It is the old Thunderbolt coaster, decrepit, crumbling, finally torn down in 2000, to everyone's dismay. (Or maybe only to coaster enthusiast's dismay.)
Coney Island, as novelist Wade Rubenstein said, is "once America's playground, [but] now it's subconsious." The warring parties will go back and forth--and eventually some stale solution will be found. I don't know what it will be, what it will look like. But I promise that the development will take away something genuine about the place. Perhaps the biggest loss will be the move from public to private ownership. Because with hotels and fancy shops come more security, a new image to protect and cultivate, new public relations campaigns.
Will the new architects and designers know how the decades of use have made Coney Island beautiful? The thousands of hands brushing across the edges, people climbing up onto the BreakDancer, the WonderWheel. Please remember when you tear down the railings: the paint is worn off because they are loved.