Zoning for Amusement

<p>Coney Island fights to preserve its history of sideshows and tilt-a-whirls as revitalization steps into the ring.</p>
June 10, 2008, 11am PDT | Tim Halbur
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"For the past 25 years, Dick Zigun, the founder and artistic director of Coney Island USA, an arts organization, has found a way to capitalize on (...) the area's overlay of dissolution and current decay, and to elevate it to an aesthetic defining the area's art and entertainment. Back in the early '80s, Mr. Zigun created the Coney Island Circus Sideshow (complete with fire-eaters and contortionists) and launched the annual Mermaid Parade, both events that are hipster must-sees as well as good old-fashioned entertainment for the irony-free.

Mr. Zigun, a major figure in the revitalization of the area and a frequent informal spokesman for the amusement industry's various proprietors, was willing to see Coney Island's particular grittiness, cherished by some, obliterated in the name of a major redevelopment plan announced by the city in 2003.

"People find the seediness charming, and I realized that in terms of the way capitalism works and real estate works, you can't become enamored of the seediness," he said. "That's not what Coney Island was in its heyday."

Mr. Zigun was invoking the Coney Island of the early 20th century, when the amusement park sprawled across 70 acres, drawing both high-end and mass clientele to its spectacular state-of-the-art-rides and restaurants, its standing-room-only beach.

The possibilities of the city's strategic plan for Coney Island seduced Mr. Zigun, who signed on and joined the board of the Coney Island Development Corporation. For the future he saw grandeur, spectacle, phantasms. He saw, specifically, 15 acres of open-air amusement park, a significant expansion over the current space, and, in that acreage, the possibility for the world's greatest urban amusement park.

Last April, the city reduced the area dedicated to an open-air amusement park to nine acres. Last week, frustrated with the plan and its trajectory, Mr. Zigun resigned from the board."

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Published on Monday, June 9, 2008 in The New York Times
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