Kathleen Horan, Reporter, WNYC News
Kathleen Horan is a staff reporter for New York Public Radio, covering the neighborhood beat. She also reports 'Reset', an ongoing series documenting police-community relations in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
A sure sign that spring is here is the sound of the of the Cyclone roller coaster rattling in Coney Island. The 2012 season officially begins on Sunday and will be operating on weekends until Memorial Day when the seaside amusement areas Luna Park and the Scream Zone open daily.
This is Central Amusement International’s 3rd season as boardwalk leaseholder — operating and overseeing the city’s 6.9 acres in the amusement district.
Julia Vitullo-Martin, senior fellow at the Regional Plan Association and director of the Center for Urban Innovation, said its worth watching this season to see if the city's rezoning effort for Coney Island is working.
"The city's plan initially looked like quite a success when it first started, and last year some of that success seemed to die down. I think the major question for Coney Island is what's going to happen this year," she explained.
CAI President Valerio Ferrari admits bad weather hurt receipts last year’s season, even though a record 11 million people visited in 2011.
Ferrari said he hopes this season will see even more visitors.
The park will add two new rides: go-carts and a sky-coaster that will pull passengers 100 feet into the air. They’re scheduled to open on May 24.
There will also be new restaurants this season, including Tom’s Diner and, a little further from the boardwalk, Grimaldi's Pizza. Old-timer Nathan’s Hot Dogs will open a second location on the boardwalk.
Longtime Coney Island businesses Ruby’s Bar and Grill and Paul’s Daughter will also be back this season, after agreeing to major upgrades.
Vitullo Martin said she hopes CAI doesn't take the boardwalk makeover too far. "I think the concessionaire needs to think about how to get a mix of retail and a mix of restaurants so that everything is good but everything doesn't look the same."
Ruby’s co-owner Michael Sarrel said some regular visitors may not recognize the area without the grit. “It will be cleaner when you walk the boardwalk but you won’t feel that old history as much.”
Ferrari disagrees. He said the Italian company has learned to appreciate Brooklyn more over the handful of years. “Instead of insisting on a 180 degree change, we are trying to embrace the old but with a new lift.”
The city is investing millions in infrastructure improvements in the area, according to the Coney Island Development Corporation. CAI has invested another $30 million so far, opening up its two amusement parks.