Coney Island burst to life Friday after 18 long months of being shuttered. That’s 529 days without Cyclone rides and boardwalk confections. Local business owners and politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senator Chuck Schumer, came out this overcast morning to take part in a grand, hopeful opening day ceremony for Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and Luna Park
“Coney Island’s always been a place for people to come and remember what it feels like to smile, and I think we all need that now more than ever,” Deno “DJ” Vourderis, owner of Deno’s Wonder Wheel, told Gothamist prior to the ceremony.
“It’s been a dark tunnel,” Vourderis said. “We’re definitely not out of that tunnel, but we have a glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel, and just being able to do the things that we are known for and the things that we’ve always done is something that we’ve been looking forward to for 18 months now—and that gives us hope.”
It was a long and difficult road getting there though—both the Wonder Wheel and Luna Park have been shut down since October 19th, 2019, leaving the area a ghost town last summer during the pandemic.
Alexandra Silversmith, executive director of the Alliance for Coney Island, a public-private partnership that advocates for the community’s revitalization, told Gothamist that they’ve estimated all of the losses for local businesses in the area last year to be around $100 million.
But like Vourderis, Silversmith was filled with optimism about this summer: “We’re really excited to have 2021 literally have laughter and screams in the air as people enjoy the rides, when it was deafening and silent last year,” she told Gothamist. “It’s been such a challenging time and we’ve been fighting, fighting, fighting literally for almost a year now to reopen, trying to make the case that we are safe to do so.”
“And now, to be able to bring people back to work, it’s just great news,” she added. “It’s been such a rough year. So it is really, really exciting to be able to say something positive for once.”
Mayor de Blasio offered two proclamations in honor of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and Luna Park to mark today’s reopening, and told the crowd at the opening ceremony, “Everyone spread the message: Coney Island’s back, and that means NYC’s back.”
Vourderis also gave a stirring speech at the opening ceremony about the significance of Coney Island returning, and what it means for the city to be carefully and slowly starting to emerge from the pandemic.
“We’ll enjoy little things more, holidays with family, a night out with friends, a hug—so many things we took for granted, so many joys of life put on hold,” he said. “We started 2020 with a catastrophic pandemic about to devastate our world. We will respond with a roaring twenties that bring about not just prosperity, but compassion. We have a chance to turn a wounded world into a wonderful one. The eyes of generations to come will be watching what happens now, let’s show them who we are. And as long as we remember who we are, Coney Island will always be a place for all people to come and play. It’s a place where the troubles of our time can be forgotten.”
You can watch this morning’s opening ceremony, including Vourderis’ speech, below:
Initially, the parks will be at 33% capacity to comply with state COVID guidelines; guests will be mandated to socially distance, wear face coverings, get a temperature check, and purchase tickets ahead of their visit.
In addition, Vourderis said there’s plexiglass throughout the whole park, one way aisles showing people which way to walk, touchless ticketing, and more safety measures in place.
“For the first time ever, we’re going to be a closed gated park so that we just don’t have people meandering throughout the park,” he added. “We’re going to have people come in, they’re going to have a block of time where they can go on rides, and then we can control the crowd.”
Vourderis was adamant that they were being extra careful with its reopening knowing that the pandemic is ongoing: “There is some pressure there, but after following science and seeing other examples of what other parks did, we feel very confident that we can do it safely,” he told Gothamist. “We’re eagerly anticipating the openings but we understand that we have a responsibility, and that responsibility comes before anything else.”
In addition to the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel, there are several new rides for children, including Circus Candy, Fire Patrol, Rainbowheel, AeroMax, Grand Prix, and Mini Mouse. Later this summer, the park is also unveiling “Phoenix,” a new steel suspended rollercoaster, which Vourderis said was the biggest investment his family has ever made in the park.
“The name Phoenix was chosen because of the symbolism of rising from the ashes, but we also plan on having a more accepting and loving world from these ashes,” he added.
Silversmith, executive director of the Alliance for Coney Island, said she’d be taking a ride on the Cyclone this morning, and that she has no doubt that the park has taken every available safety precaution for attendees. “I truly believe in my heart that this is one of the safest things to do because it is outdoors and because there’s fresh air and sunshine and all those elements are the best for just staying safe,” she said.
And there are more fun things on the horizon: “People always ask, ‘are you going to be celebrating your 100th anniversary this year?'” Vourderis said. “And I say, there will be a time to celebrate, right now we’re just going to take baby steps and we’re going to open slowly. We’re happy about 33%. We’re going to see how that goes, and when appropriate we’ll have a big party for the Wonder Wheel’s 100th, after we really get past this pandemic.”