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City Living: Surf, sand and change in Coney Island
It’s more than “The People’s Playground” for residents of Coney Island.
Within the acclaimed amusement park, world-famous boardwalk and spirited Surf Avenue, a community of informed and engaged Coney Islanders reside, and they say the waterfront neighborhood, despite some challenges, is one they won’t leave.
“It’s my neighborhood; I love the people out here. If I stand outside for five minutes I see people I know, people my kids grew up with. It has that homey feeling,” said Evangelean Pugh, a resident of 21 years and a member of the People’s Coalition of Coney Island who moved there because of the beach. “I can go out by myself on a Friday night and run into someone I know, and we can go to karaoke or catch the fireworks. You just get to know people.”
Eddie Mark, a resident and former chairman of Community Board 13, said residents help each other out here.
“There’s a bond here. You can call somebody down the block and tell them come over and have a barbeque or get a group of people that want to go and catch the fireworks or catch a movie on the boardwalk,” he said. “There’s always something to do in Coney Island.”
He worked in Coney Island before deciding to move in.
“I saw the neighborhood changing at that time and said it might not be a bad place to set my roots,” he said. That was 19 years ago. “When they put in a $220-million [Coney Island Stillwell Avenue Station] renovation at Stillwell Avenue I knew something was coming and to see what it is now, it’s going in the right direction.”
Completed in 2004, the renovation of the 76,000-square-foot train station at Surf and Stillwell avenues restored its eight train tracks and added photovoltaic, or solar electric panels, on its glass roof making it more energy efficient. A 370-foot glass-brick wall showcasing the people and activities of Coney Island was also put up.
That isn’t the only recent update to the southwestern Brooklyn enclave. The renewal and new additions of amusement park rides, like the newly-opened Thunderbolt at Luna Park, reclaims its glory of the 1930s and 1940s. The MCU Stadium, home to the baseball minor league team The Brooklyn Cyclones also experienced some rejuvenation. And development projects aim to revamp the residential side.
The amusement area is now radiating a fresh feel and the influx of chain establishments like It’s Sugar, Applebee’s and a soon-to-come Johnny Rockets says Coney Island is once again a place to be.
“Let’s say you moved out of New York 20 years ago and came back, you wouldn’t recognize what’s going on,” said Citi Habitats real estate agent Mark Martov. “It’s a night and day transformation.”
Take a stroll down the boardwalk or Surf Avenue and in addition to the nautical fragrance of the nostalgic ocean-side haunt, you will come upon long-time seaside spots like Ruby’s Bar and Grill, Williams Candy, known for their cotton candy and red candy apples, The Original Nathan’s and the quirky Lola Star Boardwalk Boutique that offers Coney Island collectables.
The hotspot is also abuzz with new bars, blending in with the old joints, including Margarita Island and one of the newest biker bars in the scene, Coney Island Bar and Grill.
According to Mark, the former Community Board 13 chair, many single-family homes were built in the last 30 years bringing new blood to the nabe and adding diversity to the predominantly apartment and public housing real estate stock.
“A mix of people -- ‘the pioneers,’ I call them -- took a chance to come here. They chose to raise their families here and 30 years later remain,” he said.
According to Martov, rentals often go quickly in the area. The median price of a one-bedroom on desired streets like West Fifth and West 12th is $1,400 per month, while a two-bedroom can go for $1,800 to $2,200 per month.
In terms of sales, he noted that a two-bedroom condo or co-op's average price is $350,000 to $400,000.
Last year a YMCA opened on Surf Avenue with Coney Island Commons, a mixed-use complex with 195 affordable housing units, situated above it. The revamping also went further north as improvements at Kaiser Park on Neptune Avenue gave residents hope that the neighborhood will improve even more.
But some, like Pugh, believe Coney Island – largely a working- and middle-class area which, according to City-Data.com, is comprised of a majority of African Americans in addition to Latinos, older generation Italians and a new influx of Russians – still needs a lot more development.
Locals don’t want their neighborhood to get left behind as nearby areas like Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach experience a commercial and residential development boom.
“People think it’s all fun and games and forget that people live here,” Pugh, who is also on Community Board 13, said, describing the residential portion as left out. “The improvement shouldn’t end with the rides.”
She noted that north of Surf Avenue could use more retail.
“We want to see businesses come out here,” she said, adding that right now “we have to leave the island to shop.”
Both she and Mark said an anchor store like Target or The Gap would make Coney Island more than a summer destination and help make activity here consistent.
“We don’t leave once the amusement closes, we’re still here in the winter months,” Mark said, noting that residents also want to see a community/training center that offers more job skills and opportunities.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Mark said that many storefronts on Mermaid Avenue were forced to shut and weren’t able to reopen.
“We used to have [sneaker store] V.I.M. on West 23rd Street and Mermaid [Avenue] but they left after Sandy. Something needs to fill the gap there,” he said. “Now is the time to entice people to come back. Everyone is looking for the next big thing, Coney Island can be that.”
Coney Island’s northern boundary is the Belt Parkway and Coney Island Creek, and its southern boundary is the Coney Island Channel. Depending on who you talk to, Ocean Parkway or Stillwell Avenue marks its eastern boundary. Its western boundary is West 37th Street and the gated community, Sea Gate. More »
TRAINS: D, N to Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue; F to Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue, West 8th St./New York Aquarium, Neptune Ave.; Q to Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue, West 8th St./New York Aquarium, Ocean Parkway More »
Brooklyn Public Library, 1901 Mermaid Ave. More »
Coney Island is covered by the 60th Precinct, at 2951 W. Eighth St. According to the precinct’s CompStat report, there were 104 burglaries in the area in 2014 as of July 27th, and 319 grand larcenies, or major thefts. The precinct reported five murders and 12 rapes as of the year to date. There were 174 robberies, 37 cars stolen, and 16 shooting incidents logged as of July 27th. More »
Totonno Pizzeria Napolitano
Another Coney Island staple, Totonno’s specialty is thin-slice pizza with a distinct taste due to their old coal-fired brick oven. Lines are usually out the door.
When you think of typical Coney Island, you probably don’t think of fine dining -- but Gargiulo’s chances that perception. Operating since 1907, it serves up authentic Neopolitan cuisine. The grand ballroom is a historic gem and hosted numerous weddings in its heyday. Today it’s still used for social functions.
The hot dog joint is synonymous with Coney Island. Established in 1916 as a hot dog stand, this Nathan’s is the original that started the beloved chain. The all-beef hot dog, curly fries, the Coney Island corn dog and cheese dogs are the staple food of the Coney Island boardwalk area.
Ruby's Bar & Grill
Ruby’s was established in 1975 and calls itself Brooklyn’s answer to Boston’s Cheers bar. Chow down on burgers, seafood or corn on the cob while sipping on draft beer or fountain drinks. It was also named one of the world’s sexiest beach bars by the Travel Channel.
The Freak Bar
Get a glimpse of Coney Island past as you down a Coney Island Lager beer and watch the freaky and wonder-inducing performers from the next-door World Famous Coney Island 10-in-1 Sideshow as they take a break at this quirky bar.
This isn’t Venezuela’s paradise island in the Caribbean Sea, but it does emit a getaway-like vibe. Situated near the boardwalk, the newly opened beachside bar offers frozen drinks, beer, BBQ dishes and nachos. Happy hour is 2-7 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Lola Star Souvenir Boutique
This colorful shop sells all things Coney Island from shirts and tanks for kids and adults to souvenirs like shot glasses, post cards and compact mirrors.
William’s Candy Shop
Cotton candy, caramel apples, red candy apples and marshmallow sticks are just some of the sweet goodness offered at this seaside candy shop which has been serving Coney Island for more than 75 years.
Nets Shop by Adidas
Brooklyn Nets fans and fashionistas can find anything from jerseys and hats to swimwear and accessories, all with the Brooklyn Nets’ signature black and white theme.
Coney Island Beach & Boardwalk
Now that it’s summer, take a mini staycation and lounge around on the beach or explore the myriad of food choices and local events on the world famous beach and boardwalk. The Coney Island Sand Sculpting contest will be held here on Saturday, Aug. 16.
New York Aquarium
See otters, sea lions and seals at what is the oldest continually operating aquarium in the United States. Kids and adults can feed the penguins and walruses daily or explore coral reefs and freshwater lakes in the Conservation Hall exhibit.
Abe Stark Skating Arena
Who says Coney Island is only a place to visit in the summer? This arena, named after a former Brooklyn borough president, is a hotspot for ice-skating in the cold months and offers public skating lessons or private classes to local neighborhood residents and schools.
The new development will ideally make Coney Island more of a year-round destination. More »
Russo was born and raised on Coney Island. More »
TO RENT: 2828 W. 16th St. #2D. Two beds, two baths; 1,200 square feet: $1,950 per month; 2942 W. Fifth St. #11M. One beds, one baths; 725 square feet: $1,500 per month More »
TO BUY: 601B Surf Ave. #18M. Two beds, one bath condo; 976 square feet: $600,000; 2925 W. Fifth St. #10E. One bed, one bath co-op; 8000 square feet: $239,000. More »