Rye Playland provides a fascinating parallel for Coney Island.
Consider the following: You’re a municipality tasked with transforming a piece of prime, oceanfront property into a premier amusement park, affordable to working families and protected in perpetuity from the threat of encroaching residential development. Coney Island, 2009? Try Rye Playland, circa 1927.
Rye Playland, the nationally landmarked amusement park in Westchester County, came into existence as the very first formally “planned” park of its kind in the United States. Concerned about the the unfocused development, the county purchased two small theme parks and built an unprecedented attraction that included a boardwalk, beach and pool, roller coasters, skating rinks and more. More than 80 years later, it remains the largest of only two government-owned and -operated amusement parks in the country.
It also provides a fascinating parallel for some of New York City’s challenges in its quest to redevelop Coney Island. Once the city’s premier family entertainment area, Coney has suffered as Astroland and other amusements have closed as a result of real estate speculation. In this atmosphere, the threat of beachfront residential development becomes even more acute. But there is good news: The city’s incredibly bold comprehensive rezoning proposes the proactive creation and protection of a new amusement park district.
By purchasing and mapping land along the boardwalk as parkland, the city would then be able to attract the world’s finest amusement park planners to create the park Coney Island deserves to be, structuring development in such a way that it can remain both open and affordable. For a Brooklyn kid like me who grew up spending weekends at Coney Island, and then had the honor of running Rye Playland for many years, I can think of nothing more important.
I recently came across the following on the Coney Island USA message board, written after a day spent at Playland Park: “Rye is everything I dream of Coney becoming, a great mix of the old and new.” We all have our dreams for Coney Island and finally, it’s starting to look like some may actually come true.
About the author:
Joe Montalto is the president of High Mountain Enterprises, and a former member of the New York state Senate.