Coney Island has long been known for its amusement park, beach and boardwalk, but visitors to the neighborhood might not notice that it has been going through major changes on the residential side.
New developments and businesses are moving in, and longtime residents say the changes are for the better.
“The good times are here,” said Eddie Mark, the district manager of the local Community Board 13, who has lived in the neighborhood for 21 years. “Businesses, investors and franchises want to come to the neighborhood and I think things like that show that we’re on an upswing.”
To improve the lives of current residents, the city invested $137 million in 2009, under the Coney Island Strategic Plan, to repair the area’s roads and sewer system. In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio gave another $180 million under his Housing New York plan for additional infrastructure improvements in the area.
According to Nate Bliss, the senior vice president of development at the NYC Economic Development Corporation, government agencies plan to continue the renovations.
“An essential premise of our efforts out there is to bring more retail, amenities and services for the local neighborhood,” he said.
Meanwhile, several chain restaurants moved into Coney, such as Wahlburgers, which opened last year at 3015 Stillwell Ave., and IHOP, expected to open in October at 1019 Surf Ave.
While franchises may not seem like exciting additions to a beach-front neighborhood, residents said more dining and retail options are welcomed. It can take an hour to get to Manhattan on the subway, so running to the city to shop and grab a bite isn’t always convenient.
Also coming to Coney Island is a residential and retail project called Neptune/Sixth, being developed by Cammeby’s.
Half of it will be a seven-story, 161,000-square-foot retail and commercial building at 626 Sheepshead Bay Road, set to open in the summer of 2017. Retailers will include a pharmacy, restaurants, a bank, according to a Cammeby’s spokesperson.
The second half of the project is a residential tower at 32 Neptune Ave., which will be the tallest building in Brooklyn at 40 stories high and is slated for completion in the next two to three years.
“It’s beautiful out here, but the neighborhood just needs more stores,” said John McCall a 32-year-old contractor who moved to Coney Island three years ago with his wife and their three kids. “They’re trying to make it upscale, which is nice, but we need more variety.”
Locals do have several iconic restaurants, such as Totonno’s at 1524 Neptune Ave., an award-winning pizzeria that opened in 1924, and Gargiulo’s at 2911 W. 15th St., a fine-dining Italian restaurant that was established in 1907.
Coney Island also offers plenty of entertainment, especially in the summer. Its free public beach and boardwalk are home to Deno’s Wonder Wheel and Luna parks, which have rides, games and vendors, MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team, and old-school bars and concessions like Ruby’s Bar and Grill and Williams Candy.
Live shows are held at the Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk on Surf Avenue and West 21st Street, which opened on July 1.
And these activities aren’t just geared toward visitors.
“It’s comfortable living by the beach,” said Kenneth Lee Martino, a 61-year-old retired security guard who has lived in Coney for two years. “Walking now and then on the beach or just sitting on the boardwalk are great ways to kill time.”
Living directly on the water in Coney Island, though, is limited mostly to condo developments like The Oceanview at 3030 32nd St., which can be entered from the boardwalk, and the Brightwater Towers, which has a swimming pool.
Other than that, housing in the area consists mostly of single- and multi-family homes.
Along with the Neptune/Sixth project, several other apartment buildings are under construction, including 2856-2858 Stillwell Ave., which will have 60 apartments and is expected to open by October of this year.
Newcomers are flocking to the neighborhood since rental and home prices are currently less expensive than in other parts of Brooklyn, according to Dave Maundrell, executive vice president of Brooklyn new developments at Citi Habitats.
“A lot of people have moved to Coney Island because it’s more affordable,” he said. “And everything is getting better down there. It’s going in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go.”
The median sales price in Coney Island was $351,000 in 2015, compared to $649,950 in all of Brooklyn, according to StreetEasy. The median rental price in Coney Island in 2015 was $1,995, compared to $2,500 in the borough as a whole, the real estate listings site found.
For many residents, the area’s housing prices are well-worth living by the beach.
“There’s nothing like being here,” said Dennis Vourderis, 57, who co-owns the Deno’s Wonder Wheel amusement park. “The fresh air, the sunshine, the happy faces, everyone walking around having a nice time — it’s all so gratifying.”
Coney Island is bordered by Ocean Parkway to the east and West 37th Street to the west. It is bound to the north by the Coney Island Creek and the Belt Parkway, and to the south by Boardwalk West.
Totonno Pizzeria Napolitano
1524 Neptune Ave.
Open since 1924, this family-owned pizzeria has won multiple awards including one from the James Beard Foundation in the America's Classics category.
Gargiulo's Italian Restaurant
2911 W. 15th St.
Tuxedo-clad waiters serve Italian dishes in this restaurant and catering hall that first opened in 1907.
1521 Surf Ave.
Live entertainment and a nightclub vibe are often featured at this Caribbean-style cafe and lounge.
Steeplechase Beer Garden
1904 Surf Ave.
Paying homage to Steeplechase Park that operated on Coney Island from 1897 to 1964, this beer garden serves a variety of locally-brewed beers in a carnival setting within the pub. The bar also mixes things up with occasional live music performances and DJ sets as well as game nights.
Ruby's Bar and Grill
1213 Boardwalk W
Open since 1972, Ruby's has maintained its vintage charm over the decades by preserving the original 1920s boardwalk wood, featuring an old-school jukebox and displaying photos of old Coney Island taken by the late founder Ruby Jacobs on its walls.
1105 Bowery St.
Enjoy live music, frozen drinks, games and barbecue at this 10,000-square-foot, 250-seat bar that's open seven days a week.
Coney Island Beach Shop
3018 Stillwell Ave.
A family-owned souvenir shop that also carries beach day necessities.
Sneaker Town USA
1504 Mermaid Ave.
This mom-and-pop sneaker and athletic clothing shop opened in 1973 and got a modern makeover after it was damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
William's Candy Shop
1318 Surf Ave.
From candy apples to marshmallow treats, William's specializes in delectable carny candies.
Show off the fun your having some old-fashioned fun at Coney Island's beach and Luna Park. Ride the Wheel of Wonder or eat some cotton candy. It's an escape from nearby New York City. Be careful, your photos might make your friends jealous. (Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang)
D F N Q to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue
F, Q to West Eighth Street/NY Aquarium
B36, B64, B68, B74, B82, x28, x38(Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang)
Coney Island has been featured in numerous songs, movies and television shows over the years. For example, the 1979 film "The Warriors" and Woody Allen's 1977 movie "Annie Hall" had numerous scenes shot around Coney Island. Coney Island was also prominently featured in the HBO show "The Sopranos." Lana Del Rey calls herself "The Queen of Coney Island" in her 2012 song "Off to the Races."(Credit: United Artists)
Median sales price: $351,000
Number of units on market: 183
Median rental price: $1,995
Number of rentals on market: 227
Source: StreetEasy(Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang)
Local residents are concerned that a new concert venue by the beach, the Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk, will lead to traffic congestion.
"Parking has always been a huge problem in the neighborhood," said Ismael Ortega, 63, a retired engineer inspector for Con Edison who currently lives in Gravesend but grew up in Coney Island and helps maintain a public garden on Mermaid Avenue and West 20th Street. "There's major congestion on the weekends and it's gotten worse with [new residential] development."
The Amphitheater opened on July 1 and seats 5,000 people for concerts, performance shows and other events.
According to Eddie Mark, district manager of the local Community Board 13, the New York Police Department and the Department of Transportation are working with the theater to keep traffic congestion at a minimum.
Efforts to alleviate traffic have included scheduling ballgames and concerts to end at different times and providing drivers with alternate routes to exit the neighborhood, Mark said.
"In the last weekend or so, traffic has been good because a ballgame lets out before a concert, so there are different shifts in traffic leaving Coney Island," he said. "[We're] trying to figure out the best way of getting people in and out without inconveniencing residents in the neighborhood."
A spokesperson for the NYPD said additional officers and traffic agents will be assigned to the area during events to help facilitate the flow of traffic.
Alana Morales, a spokesperson for the DOT, said the department is "participating in ongoing discussions with the Coney Island community and stakeholders to brainstorm ideas which might help to alleviate traffic and congestion during peak season events," but did not specify possible solutions.
The Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk did not respond to a request for comment.(Credit: amNewYork / Ivan Pereira)
Magda Perez, 56, opened Mermaid Prime Meat at 1621 Mermaid Ave. with her husband Sabino Eugenio in 2013. The couple both grew up in Coney Island but have been living in Bensonhurst for 30 years. Perez chatted with amNewYork about changes and community in Coney Island.
How is the area different from when you grew up here?
I've been in Coney Island all my life and I've seen it from back when on Stillwell Avenue all the way to Surf there used to be a lot more stores. We had two movie theaters here, diners, three banks, a place for bridal showers, halls for weddings. In the early '70s and '80s, they started [closing] little by little ... but today they're developing a lot of buildings here [and] I hope they bring new business. The MCU Park made a really big difference to the neighborhood, I even cook for the Cyclones.
Why did you open your business in Coney Island?
Because we're from Coney Island, my husband knows a lot of the people here. When Major [Prime Meat market on Mermaid Avenue] closed down, a lot of people were saddened and [my husband] wanted to keep up the Major tradition of prime meats, and all our meats are prime.
What is Coney Island's best-kept secret?
Mermaid Avenue, a lot of people don't come down here but they're missing out on good food and good stores. We have a good 99-cent store and they just opened up a Donut Connection next door. They also just rebuilt Our Lady of Solace, the church. And Gargiulo's [Italian restaurant] got redone all over again. We need more people to come out and just look around, there are a lot of things happening [beyond] Surf Avenue.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Mayor Bill de Blasio gave $180 million under his Housing New York plan for additional infrastructure improvements in the area in 2012. He gave $180 million in 2014.(Credit: Jason Shaltiel)