Borough President Markowitz’s controversial plan to convert Coney Island’s historic Childs Building into a concert venue was trashed by residents during a public hearing for the second time in a week on Monday night.
Community Board 13 smacked down the Beep’s latest vision for an new amphitheater after a raucous public hearing on Sept. 23.
The neighborhood panel voted 14–7 against the proposal, which would knock a hole in the wall of the landmarked former restaurant on W. 21st Street and set a stage inside — then put a 5,100-capacity seating bowl in the adjoining lot. Seven board members abstained.
Nearly a dozen Coney Island residents came to speak out against the envisioned arena, which would provide a permanent home for the Beep’s summer concert series — and, according to critics, bring noise, traffic congestion, and low-income jobs to the area.
“Don’t push this through, and jam it down our throats,” Coney resident Mathylde Frontus begged the board.
Others objected to sinking $50 million into a new entertainment venue while the neighborhood is still hurting from Hurricane Sandy, and many schools, streets, community centers, and public housing buildings remain in disrepair.
“That’s $50 million you’re using that we could use to rebuild five, six, seven schools,” said Nicole Vazquez.
“We’re putting millions of dollars into the area, but we are not putting any money into the infrastructure. And it will sink us someday,” said CB13 member Ronald Stewart.
Several others spoke out for the Boardwalk Garden, a community growing space next door to the Childs Building, which would be plowed under to create the seating area. The urban agrarians argued that the small oasis cultivates unity among the neighborhood’s black, Latino, and Eastern European residents — and should not be carelessly uprooted.
“The garden brings a lot of people together, all different cultures,” said gardener Yury Opendik.
No one spoke in favor of the plan.
This isn’t the first time that Marty’s dream of a permanent home for his seaside concerts has hit a sour note with residents. Markowitz tried — and failed — to construct an amphitheater inside Brighton Beach’s Asser Levy Park in 2009. Public protest and a lawsuit blocked the structure, which was widely mocked for resembling a potato chip.
A representative for Markowitz’s office declined to comment on the vote — though he did ask CB13 secretary Barbara Santonas for a list of the board members and their votes. Markowitz is responsible for appointing half the members of all the borough’s community boards.
An attorney for iStar Financial, the current owners of the Childs Building, defended the plan for iStar to sell the structure to the city and transform it into an amphitheater for $50 million in taxpayer money. The lawyer said that the company, which has a lease to operate the new facility at a profit for 10 years, had already taken into account the potential for problems with noise and traffic — and found that there will be no problems at all.
“I expect that it’s going to be ultimately approved, and I expect that this project will be a benefit not just to people who come to the concerts, but to the whole community,” said iStar counsel Howard Weiss.
The City Planning Commission — the next body to review the project — is free to ignore the CB13 vote, which is only advisory.
CB13’s vote went against its own Zoning and Land Use Committee. The committee voted 10–1 to approve the proposal — as long as there was a study on the amphitheater’s impact on parking, and an investigation into the possibility of a shuttle bus to the new facility. The committee also asked for iStar to hire Coney residents to help build and run the concert space and restaurant, at a prevailing wage.
Markowitz pitched the Childs Building — which operated as a restaurant from 1923 until 1949 — as the perfect spot to shelter his oceanside shows as part of his 2013 State of the Borough address in April.
©2013 Community News Group
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