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Coney Island casino bidder Thor Equities details multiblock project

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The developers pushing a casino complex at Coney Island are going public with their full, sprawling proposal, which would require some of its own approvals at the city level before competing for a lucrative gaming license.

Led by Brooklyn developer Joseph Sitt and his company Thor Equities, the project would include a 500-room hotel, 92,000-square-foot convention center, commercial space, a concert venue, and, of course, the 395,000-square-foot casino. Thor and its partners on the project — Saratoga Casino Holdings, the Chickasaw Nation, and hospitality firm Legends — have been open about their plans to apply for one of three downstate casino licenses, but took until Thursday to release details.

That was spelled out in a zoning application the developers filed with the city, which identifies a few hurdles particular to the Coney Island project. The casino complex would span parts of four city blocks between West 15th and 12th streets, between Surf Avenue and the boardwalk. The developers need city permission to close, or “demap” several of those public streets for private use, and also acquire some of that same land that is now owned by the city.

The 9-acre site is now home to a mix of parking lots and a stretch of low-rise commercial buildings along Surf Avenue, which include shooting galleries and an ice cream shop. Thor Equities has long been a major landowner in Coney Island, and it helped usher in a previous rezoning in 2009 that allowed more high-rise housing near the waterfront.

Eleven projects are known to be vying for a downstate casino license, but the Coney Island project is one of just four that needs its own local zoning changes in addition to the state license. The others are the Steve Cohen’s Willets Point bid, the Related Companies’ Hudson Yards proposal, and Bally’s proposed casino at the former Trump Golf Links in the Bronx. (Related has begun its city-level review, which lasts about 7 months, but Cohen and Bally’s have not.)

But while those rivals are relying on those approvals to have any shot at a license, the Coney Island requests are more cosmetic — project spokesman Robert Busweiler said the developers are requesting the demapping only to “improve pedestrian access and improve traffic flow” on neighborhood streets. One of the streets, Wonder Wheel Way, would also be elevated by more than 2 feet to guard against climate change-induced flooding.

Like many city rezonings, this one’s fate could depend on the stance of the local City Council member — in this case, Democrat Justin Brannan. Brannan has not said whether he supports the Coney Island bid but voted last month for the citywide rule change that legalized future casinos pending the state’s separate process of awarding licenses.

In a potential reflection of its extra hurdle at the city level, the Coney Island team last year hired former City Councilman Domenic Recchia as an attorney and consultant. Recchia helped secure the neighborhood’s 2009 rezoning, but he has not registered as a lobbyist for the bid. (Instead, the developers have hired three other lobbying teams at the city and state levels, including Albany-based Patricia Lynch Associates and Brooklyn-based Bender Cantone.)

The Coney Island developers argue their project will help fulfill the city’s longtime goal of making the neighborhood into a year-round destination, rather than a warm-weather getaway.

“Situated in the middle of a preexisting entertainment district steps away from one of NYC’s most iconic historical landmarks, The Coney just makes sense,” said Saratoga Casino Holdings CEO Sam Gerrity in a statement, using the proposal’s official name.

Like many of their rival bidders, the Coney Island developers have not foregrounded the casino component of their plan — last week’s official announcement led with the hotel and convention center, only briefly mentioning the casino itself and describing its size only in separate zoning paperwork. Local support will be crucial for all casino applicants, who must win a two-thirds vote from six-member panels of local officials before being considered for a license.

The state’s casino process has been slow-moving, and officials announced in March that no licenses will be awarded until 2025. Although some bidders have lamented the pushed-back timeline, state regulators said it will allow applicants like the Coney Island team to get their land-use issues resolved in time.

Sitt, of Thor Equities, wields influence in other respects: a Washington Post report last week revealed he was among the pro-Israel businessmen communicating directly with Mayor Eric Adams to encourage a crackdown on pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University.

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Nick Garber , 2024-05-20 19:34:03

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