Diocesan News

Coney Island Alliance Sparks Resort’s Revival

Coney Island’s historic Rigelman Boardwalk has been attracting visitors for more than 100 years.
Coney Island’s iconic Parachute Jump is seen through the windows of the Boardwalk’s newest restaurant, Kitchen 21, part of the Ford Amphitheater complex.
Millions flock to the beach every year at Coney Island.
Recently the Boardwalk hosted the colorful piano painted by Christopher Spinelli as part of the City’s piano festival.
Coney Island Alliance az

The Catholic Church joins the celebration that is Coney Island in a new way this summer.

Coney Island is a refuge for New York families, said JoAnn DiNapoli, the director of sales at DeSales Media, who is spearheading the initiative. She highlighted the importance of the Church being present in order to support families in their quest for rest, and quality, wholesome entertainment.

DeSales Media, the communication branch of the Diocese of Brooklyn and the parent company of The Tablet, is joining the Alliance for Coney Island as a member. This will allow the diocese to host and join in events and bring the New Evangelization to beach-goers and thrill-seekers, DiNapoli said.

Five years ago, key players on Coney Island decided they needed to do more to support one another and the surrounding neighborhood, said Alexandra Silversmith, executive director of the alliance. They needed people on the ground to help collaborate their efforts to attract visitors, support the roughly 50,000 residents in the neighborhood and help everyone have a good time in “The People’s Playground.”

The alliance formed in July of 2012. Three months later, Superstorm Sandy struck.

The need for collaboration intensified as the storm brought devastation to the area. Businesses needed to work together to reopen and make Coney Island safe for visitors again. The Alliance for Coney Island rose to the challenge. Although it wasn’t meant to be a relief agency, its members did what they could to help with the recovery. They became a source of information and comfort for small business owners that had seen their lives’ work wash away. They helped raise funds for the local community, including the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace. They advocated for local residents trying to piece their lives together again.

Sandy brought unimaginable destruction to what is supposed to be a happy place, an oasis for hard-working New Yorkers, said Cindy Godla, events and public relations manager for the alliance. But Sandy did not break Coney Island, instead it brought everyone closer together and more dedicated to collaborative success.

Today some businesses are still shuttered on the strip, Silversmith said, and some residents are still hurting, but overall Coney Island is back, stronger than before. The boardwalk is rebuilt from stronger, more durable material and on it, iconic vendors attract long lines. Nathan’s sells hotdogs for people to enjoy under parasols on the boardwalk, Coney’s Cones helps visitors cool down with its delicious, homemade creations and there is no shortage of baked clams, fries, burgers and funnel cakes.

Off the boardwalk, four separate entities offer rides for daring thrill-seekers. The Thunderbolt shows off modern ingenuity, the roller coaster known as the Cyclone is a historical thriller and Deno’s Wonder Wheel, which features stationary and sliding cars, offers a unique perspective on all the fun.

There are also arcade games, go-karts, mini-games, art displays, a carousel and many other whimsical amusements that capture the imagination and revive the spirit.

The New York Aquarium, the Cyclones baseball team, the new Ford Amphitheater and Coney Flix on the Beach could each attract tourists alone for any of their events, but they are part of an attraction complex that offers more to do than could possibly be done in a one-day trip.

Working together helps all of Coney Island thrive because when visitors come for one attraction, they often stay to enjoy themselves, said Dennis Vourderis, co-owner of Deno’s Wonder Wheel and treasurer of the alliance. He said the alliance helps boost all of Coney Island. His businesses, including the Wonder Wheel and an accompanying pizzeria and kiddie park, get a powerful boost from collaborated events such as the summer Friday night fireworks.

In fact, Coney Island attracts such a rich diversity of people that Zamperla, the international amusement ride manufacturing company, actually uses its Luna Park on Coney Island as a testing ground for new rides and as a recruiting ground for parks around the world.

However, the alliance aims to do more than just boost the businesses of its affiliates. It aims to provide rest and entertainment for the great diversity of people who live in and visit New York City, Godla said. She organizes events that are open and free to the public so that all may come and enjoy New York’s heritage.

The weekly fireworks require more than $150,000 of fundraising to bring a safe celebration into the night hours on the boardwalk. On Monday nights at 7 p.m. from July 10 to Aug. 28, a 40-foot inflatable screen will turn the beach at West 12th Street into a free outdoor movie theater. The series kicks off with Disney’s blockbuster, “Beauty and The Beast,” and includes music and giveaways.

The alliance also helps organize special events such as a talent show, a food and music festival and a beard and mustache competition. The sand sculpting competition has categories for professional artists, amateurs, families and children. The alliance also pays artists to create massive sand sculptures for the public.

None of this would be possible without a strong, safe, healthy and thriving neighborhood, Silversmith said. Therefore the alliance also works to ensure the wellbeing of its neighbors.

One of the first things that the group did was hire a supplementary cleaning crew, staffed mostly by locals, to help tidy up after the millions of visitors that come to the oceanside resort every year. The alliance makes sure the subway entrances, the streets and the boardwalk are clean and safe for visitors.

The alliance also helps funnel some of the cash made in Coney Island back into the community. It sponsors job fairs that encourage local hiring and serves as a resource for small businesses and residents in the area. Among the current projects is a push for express service on the F line. This is a concern that came out of the neighborhood and would help residents come and go to work during rush hour on the weekdays.

In collaboration with the Coney Island Generation Gap, the alliance supports the teens that make up the The Coney Island Greeters. The program trains local youth in hospitality skills and gives them marketable experience at one of the world’s most famous summer destinations. Among other responsibilities, they staff the Coney Island Visitor Center at the Stillwell Avenue Subway Station.

The Alliance for Coney Island has recently received funding to help revive Mermaid Avenue, a stretch parallel to where most of the Coney Island attractions are located. A study has found that residents travel out of Coney Island to do their shopping, costing local money to leave the area. Among other initiatives, the alliance holds public hearings to learn what kind of businesses residents need and then encourages such businesses for Mermaid Avenue.

The Coney Island experience is possible thanks to local government, support from the surrounding area, small businesses, international cooperations and public institutions. The alliance helps all these agencies work together and the Diocese of Brooklyn is jumping into the mix. The first planned event is a Brooklyn Diocese Day at MCU Park Aug. 3 for a 7 p.m. Cyclones vs. Tri-City Valleycats game. Field box seats are available for $10 with the promo-code BKDIOCESE. The first 5,000 fans will receive a Jose Reyes sliding bobblehead.

The Great Irish Fair, that has been bringing crowds back to Coney Island for almost 30 years, will again be held at the Ford Amphitheater on Saturday, Sept. 16.

For information on some of the attractions and events offered at Coney Island, visit ConeyIslandFunGuide.com. For information on the Alliance for Coney Island, visit allianceforconeyisland.org.