Coney Island's New Rides Won't Lift Home Sales

Brooklyn's Coney Island is getting something of a well-needed makeover. A new, $30-million amusement park featuring the latest in rides and attractions from Italy's renowned Zamperla Group, is scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend.

It's the latest in a series of upgrades including a new boardwalk, a restyled subway station (left) and a Mets farm team with by far the spiffiest stadium in its league. The sort of development that's still lacking around the New York City landmark, however, is new housing and retail space. This is why area realtors say home prices are unlikely to climb like a seat on the Parachute Jump anytime soon.
"They've been talking about this for 40 years -- 40 years-and no one has broken ground yet," says Michele Pietrafesa, a Brooklyn native and agent with Fillmore Real Estate. "It's just plans."

Pietrafesa points out that the neighborhood still has its attributes. Inside Schools reveals a selection of decent-to-good public schools nearby. There are several subway lines and an express bus to Manhattan along with shopping, restaurants and services blocks away in Brighton Beach (of course, it helps to speak Russian if you want to do business there).

Residents from there and Seagate, which bookend the neighborhood, would likely spill over into Coney Island if there were more housing, stores, services and restaurants -- other than Nathan's -- to attract them, the real estate agent says.

"If you walk a few blocks down to Brighton, there's restaurants and local life on the boardwalk and people don't mind living there at all," she said.

On the other hand, Coney Island is a narrow strip of a neighborhood that fronts the Atlantic Ocean but backs up to a grimy industrial area. During the summer, visitors to the beach, aquarium, amusement park and baseball stadium create gridlock in the streets, congestion on the boardwalk, and blanket-to-blanket crowding on the sand.

In the winter all this shuts down, leaving the area dreary and desolate.

Louis Esposito, a Coney Island native and realtor with Prudential Douglas Elliman, says that most of the people who live there "have been there for years."

"The area is stale and it lacks a residential, neighborhoody feel," he said. "New development would help, especially affordable rentals and condos." If it ever happens, that is.

Coney Island, it seems, is the real estate equivalent of the Hollywood movie that is perpetually in development but never gets made. The idea of it is so alluring that many want to try their hand at it, but there are just too many impracticalities and hurdles for it to actually happen.

Pietrafesa points out that given the high cost and hassle of creating new housing stock, especially in New York, developers feel they need to put up highrises and make the majority of apartments high-end -- to make the expenses worthwhile. Indeed, the city council did some rezoning in the neighborhood last year that paves the way for highrise hotels and apartment buildings.

But ocean-views aside, the neighborhood is hemmed in by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, overshadowed by an elevated train line and is one long ride from midtown Manhattan. The existing housing stock is a mix of rowhouses built in the 1980s; older rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments; and senior citizen homes as aged as their residents.

All this, plus the hassles of living in a cramped urban neighborhood (and a remote one at that) seems likely to keep the area solidly middle- and working-class.

The plans on the table now provides for a mix of middle-class and "affordable" housing along with units that developers can sell for as much as they can get for them. These ratios are hypothetical and often shift as building plans unfold --usually in the developers' favor. But even with a shiny new Tilt-A-Whirl on the way, the current, tough-financing environment leaves developers unwilling to plow ahead with new properties that could be saleable -- but more middle- and working-class than their spreadsheets allow for.

In the meantime, the existing real estate market has the feeling of being on hold. A few realtors keep a toe in it -- just in case -- while focusing their energies on livelier parts of the Brooklyn market.

Says Esposito, "I have one property in a prime location that's been listed for seven weeks. I've gotten no calls."

See homes for sale in Brooklyn, New York at AOL Real Estate.
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