Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Recchia campaign full of Sitt

Recchia campaign full of Sitt
by Will Bredderman published in Brooklyn Daily

Thor is making it rain for councilman and congressional candidate Domenic Recchia.

Recchia (D–Coney Island) is picking up cash for his campaign to unseat Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) from friends and family of his old People’s Playground ally, land baron Joe Sitt, the founder and chief executive of Thor Equities.

Sitt has personally donated $5,200 — the maximum allowed — to Recchia’s quest to replace Grimm as the representative for Staten Island, Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, and parts of his native Gravesend. Sitt’s wife, Betty — whose last reported job was “homemaker” — matched her husband’s generosity, and another homemaker, Paulette Bailey — wife of Thor Equities consultant Morris Bailey — enriched Recchia’s warchest by $5,200, as well.

The Baileys’ son-in-law and grandchildren have contributed a combined $18,100. Recchia also received $2,500 from Morris Missry, who for 18 years was the partner of Jesse Masyr, Sitt’s attorney and ardent advocate through years of bitter bargaining with the city. And the Capalino family, owners of a public relations firm registered as a lobbyist for Thor, has given the man known as “Mister Coney Island” $6,700 in his bid to become “Mister Staten Island.” Capalino employees have chipped in an additional $550.

The $43,450 haul should come as no surprise to anybody familiar with Recchia’s history with Sitt.

Documentarian Amy Nicholson’s 2013 film “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride,” captured Sitt and Recchia recalling 2001 a conversation in which Recchia told Sitt that would pitch a zoning change to allow for upscale residential and retail development in Coney Island’s amusement district — and the only thing missing was an interested developer.

Recchia pushed his proposal in City Hall, leading to the formation of the Coney Island Development Corporation in 2003 to investigate new business possibilities there. Sitt then went on a spending spree in Sodom by the Sea, snapping up famed funzone Astroland and countless other carny-occupied parcels, which then went for an average of $1.3 million an acre. The transactions left Sitt sitting on two-thirds of the land the city hoped to redevelop. The developer put out a slew of eye-popping architectural drawings of a Vegas-ified People’s Playground, and Recchia urged the city to change the zoning laws to allow Sitt to realize his vision.

But Mayor Bloomberg was wary of Sitt — of his outlandish designs for Coney, and of his reputation as a property-flipper. Sitt had bought Albee Square Mall in Downtown Brooklyn in 2001 and convinced the city to change the zoning to let him erect the borough’s tallest tower. Instead, Sitt built nothing at all, tore the mall down, and sold the lot — its value boosted hugely by the regulation changes — for 10 times what he had paid for it. The city announced that it intended to find another private partner to refurbish the run-down destination — and to take over Sitt’s properties.

Sitt reacted to the city’s rejection by evicting Astroland and many of his other carnival game tenants, and bulldozing the buildings that housed their amusements — stabbing at the heart of Coney to force the city to bend to his will. Bloomberg offered to pay $105 million for his 10.5 acres, — but Sitt demanded $140 million.

Recchia fought hard to prevent the city from using eminent domain to seize the land for a pittance — the very threat of it would have tanked the value of Sitt’s fallow holding and enormously strengthened the city’s hand in negotiations. Ultimately, Sitt recieved $95.6 million for less than seven acres of amusement district turf — roughly Sitt’s original asking price.

Both Recchia and Sitt declined to comment on the contributions.