As it plays out on screen, no civic battle in recent New York history has been as contentious and passionate as the one between developer Joe Sitt and Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the future of Coney Island. The fight was the culmination of a complex tangle of zoning laws, neglect, tradition, class warfare, and lots and lots of money. Director Amy Nicholson's 77-minute documentary Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride, while not a definitive statement on the debate, is a fine start. The film, which had its world premiere on Saturday at the DOC NYC festival in New York City and screens again tonight (November 15), at the IFC Center in Manhattan, gives a voice to people unheard in the conflict—local residents and the amusement class.
In 2005, Sitt's Thor Equities unveiled a plan for a new Coney Island that called for businesses (Build-a-Bear Workshop), restaurants (Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.), housing (high-rise condos), and amusements (an indoor hotel water-park). Residents roundly decried the plan as a generic big-boxification of one of the nation's iconic communities and feared super-rich interlopers would push out working-class locals. The city countered Thor's plans with a few of their own, with the final version unveiled in 2009 designating 9.4 acres as parkland (down from the 60 acres Coney Island once had) for amusements but left the rest of Coney up for grabs.