Coney Island amusement parks in jeopardy amid lease fiasco

A lease agreement ironed out last year to retain Coney Island’s two biggest amusement parks still hasn’t been approved — and now some stakeholders are questioning the fabled boardwalk’s future.

Last December, the City Council and outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio approved plans to extend leases for Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park to operate on city land for another 10 years, running through 2037.

But eight months later, the measure has yet to be heard by the Brooklyn Borough Board for what stakeholders thought would be a quick, rubber-stamp ratification.

“I’m cautiously optimistic it’ll get done, but now I have a small amount of concern that we might wind up not getting what we were promised,” said Michael Sorrell, co-owner of Ruby’s Bar & Grill, a boardwalk fixture since 1934 that subleases city land from Luna Park and was also promised an extension along with rental relief.

A spokeswoman for Borough President Antonio Reynoso, who controls the borough board, confirmed it will begin hearing testimony on the lease deal at its September meeting. She also said Reynoso, who became the beep in January, would examine the issue more closely ahead of the vote.

Coney Island boardwalk businesses dealt with rent hikes before the pandemic.
Gabriella Bass

Reps for Luna Park didn’t return messages. Dennis Vourderis, who co-owns Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, said he’s “still hopeful a deal get done” but wonders why it’s taken so long.

Both amusement operators are seeking the extensions to help show lenders they’re committed long-term to Coney Isl and in order to boost their borrowing capabilities for expansions and renovations.

The deal, brokered by former Councilman Mark Treyger, would also provide financial relief to Ruby’s and three boardwalk businesses hit with hefty rent hikes shortly before the pandemic struck in early 2020 and barely survived the past three summer seasons.

The city’s Economic Development Corp., which oversees the leases, said in a statement the extensions, if approved, “will provide greater stability and a more successful season in 2023 and for years to come.”

Michael Sorrell, co-owner of Ruby’s Bar & Grill, fears the lease agreement will not be completed.
Michael Sorrell, co-owner of Ruby’s Bar & Grill, fears the lease agreement will not be completed.
James Keivom
Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso
Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso promised to focus on renewing the amusement park lease deals in September.
Erik Pendzich/Shutterstock

However, a tiny, but popular, designer T-shirt shop that has been on the boardwalk since 2001, still remains out of the deal.

Activist Dianna Carlin, owner of the Lola Star boutique, was the most vocal about the initial rent hikes and organized a series of protests in late 2019 and early 2020 after being socked with a 400 percent increase by Luna Park’s owners. She said she plans to attend the borough board meeting with supporters and fight for her store’s survival.