NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The first new roller coasters to be built at Coney Island in 80 years were opened on Wednesday as part of efforts to reverse the decline of New York City’s world-famous theme park.
The Soarin’ Eagle and Steeplechase roller coasters are part of the new multimillion-dollar Scream Zone theme park, that replaced several more ramshackle attractions that had their own loyal followings.
“Last summer was Coney Island’s biggest in nearly a half century, and this year -- with the addition of the first new roller coasters since the Cyclone opened in 1927 -- it’s going to be even bigger,” New York City Mayor Bloomberg said on Wednesday.
“It had been decades since Coney Island saw any significant investment and the famed amusement district had dwindled as a result.”
The City of New York rezoned Coney Island in 2009 in an attempt to revitalize the neighborhood by preserving some of its historic attractions while encouraging the development of hotels, restaurants and retail stores in the amusement district and affordable housing in the surrounding residential neighborhoods.
The city bought three parcels of land, totaling 6.9 acres, and signed a 10-year lease with Central Amusement International, a New Jersey-based subsidiary of the Italian amusement park-ride manufacturer Zamperla, to build new theme parks.
The first, Luna Park, opened last year, helping attract more than 450,000 visitors to the neighborhood last summer, the city said.
Under the revitalization plan, the city is spending more than $150 million on improvements to Coney Island, which has attracted thrill-seeking New Yorkers and tourists since the late 19th century.
Mayor Bloomberg says the investment will result in 6,000 permanent jobs and create $14 billion of economic activity in New York over the next 30 years.
The redevelopment has had detractors, stirring the same sort of feelings as did the transformation of Times Square from an edgy neighborhood into a family-friendly tourist attraction.
While some saw the Coney Island of the recent past as old-fashioned and seedy, others saw it as an authentic and charming neighborhood where small-scale entrepreneurs could flourish.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Greg McCune