BY STEVIE BORRELLO
Coney Island is a quintessential New York City summer staple. It is a refuge not only for South Brooklyn locals to escape the heat, but also for residents of every borough to come and spend their weekends at a beach town that makes them feel miles away from the concrete jungle. The revitalization of the area brings more attractions, events and establishments each summer, making Coney Island a destination on every New Yorker’s summer bucket list.
One of those new attractions is the Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit at the New York Aquarium, which includes over 10 species of sharks including sand tiger and blacktip reef sharks. The exhibit, which took over four years to complete from the groundbreaking in January 2014, is crucial in teaching New Yorkers the significance of protecting the city’s marine ecosystems and biodiversity.
“We’re celebrating a remarkable new facility where New Yorkers can learn more about – and be delighted by – our ocean-dwelling neighbors. But we’re also celebrating another big step toward recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at the ribbon cutting event on June 28.
The restoration and revitalization of Coney Island started before the mass destruction left by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and developments continue to be made in the area.
“Investing in our cultural institutions is critical to our ongoing neighborhood investments, and we’re thrilled to see this iconic exhibit build on the momentum in Coney Island,” said James Patchett, President and CEO of New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), at the event.
The revitalization of Coney Island was spearheaded in 2003 with the creation of the Coney Island Development Corporation by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the City Council and former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. The initiatives have included redesigning and renovating several amusement park rides, creating new pedestrian walkways to the boardwalk and the opening of the Ford Amphitheater.
“The Ford Amphitheater represents the revitalization of Coney Island, which is in the midst of a comeback as the best beach-side entertainment destination in New York City,” said amphitheater spokesperson Julien Martinez.
Since its opening in 2016, the amphitheater has had over 100,000 ticket buyers and opened the restaurant Kitchen 21, which includes Brooklyn’s only beachfront rooftop bar, according to Martinez. The amphitheater also boasts a diverse lineup of famous performers this summer, from Wiz Khalifa on August 2 to the Beach Boys on August 17.
MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, has also felt positive effects from the revitalization efforts. “It’s really great,” said Cyclones’ Director of Communications Billy Harner, “people are coming from all over the city enjoying the rides, going to Nathan’s, enjoying the game and fireworks.”
He also mentioned several events the Cyclones have planned for upcoming games, including the first ever Grateful Dead night on July 14 and a Sandlot 25th anniversary night on July 21. Event favorites are also returning, such as Seinfeld Night on August 4, which Harner said is one of the “biggest nights of the season.”
The Cyclones have become a staple at Coney Island, and as Harner says, “Play ball means it’s the start of summer.”
On a typical summer day in Coney Island, there is a constant flow of people coming off the trains and flocking to the beach, sauntering around the boardwalk or laying on benches basking in the sunshine. While there are endless activities, from Circus Sideshows and Burlesque at Coney Island USA to the iconic Cyclone roller coaster and Deno’s Wonder Wheel rides, the mass of people appear to prefer the calm, lazy days spent avoiding the chaos from the New York hustle and grind.
“I come out here almost every day,” said Coney Island resident Ronnie Brown. “The water calms me,” he said, relaxing on a bench and staring out into the ocean.
Brown has been living in the area for about 45 years and described how he saw the changes in the neighborhood over time. “I had seen it in its worst days,” he said, “it has changed a lot for the better. Now all walks of life come here and it’s a diverse area.”
While the revitalization efforts have mostly been focused around the Coney Island boardwalk and amusement area, it has also impacted local residents by upgrading sanitary sewer lines and a mixed-use residential building that features a community center. NYCEDC plans to continue renovating infrastructure in the neighborhood, according to their project plans on their website.
The refurbishments also do not take away any of the Brooklyn charm from Coney Island. When Brenda Rodriguez has free time, she travels from her home in Staten Island to come back to her childhood neighborhood where she can still find several traces of her nostalgic Coney Island summers.
“I feel at home here,” she said, leaning back on the bench, smiling wide, watching the people passing by. “I did everything over here as a kid — the Cyclone, the spook house, even the Jumbo Jet when it was there.”
Since Rodriguez’s childhood days, several events have been created to entertain the crowds, including free movie nights on the beach, the Annual Sand Sculpting Competition and the Coney Island Music Festival, according to Cindy Godla, events, marketing and public relations manager for the Alliance for Coney Island.
“Whether you’re a beach lover or adventure seeker, there is something for everyone in Coney Island,” said Godla. “We have tons of history here.”
Gravesend resident Jeanette Wert enjoys heading to Paul’s Daughter, one of the oldest establishments on the boardwalk, to have a beer and hamburger, a routine she looks forward to when she heads to the beach. Walking past Paul’s Daughter one can see longtime locals like Wert alongside families getting fuel after going on rides at Luna Park, all defining their own Coney Island experience. “There is a strong sense of community here,” said Wert.