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Top of swaying Astrotower to be taken down as Luna Park seeks to reopen for the 4th, spokesperson says

Coney Island, BROOKLYN (PIX11) — Luna Park has decided to remove the top portion of the iconic Astrotower as soon as possible in an effort to open the park in time for July 4th.

A portion of the famed boardwalk will also be closed as they work to remove the tower’s top.

“A decision has been made to remove a portion of the Astrotower. This will happen as soon as possible so the areas of Coney Island that have been temporarily closed to the public may reopen. The Scream Zone at Luna Park, the Coney Island Raceway and the B&B Carousell are currently open to the public and are under normal operation. We look forward to a safe and happy July 4thweekend that will continue as planned with fireworks after tonight‘s Brooklyn Cyclones game. On July 4th, Coney Island will host the 98th Annual International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Nathan’s Famous, FourthFest at MCU Park, live music at Place to Beach and free fireworks at night,” a spokeswoman said in a statement to PIX11.

WATCH LIVE: PORTION OF ASTROTOWER TO BE DISMANTLED (CAM IS A STILL IMAGE THAT UPDATES EVERY 15-30 MIN.)

It’s a structure that for some represents the glory days of Coney Island as well as the hope of recapturing that glory. For now, however, the Astrotower Wednesday represented a possible danger that has the Luna Park amusement area shut down.

The danger was in the form of the tower’s dramatic swaying.  According to city Commissioner of Buildings Robert Limandri, the tower that had been the centerpiece of the old Astroland amusement area is swaying at least a foot-and-a-half either way as it moves side to side periodically.  That sway is even stronger higher up the 25-storey steel column, he said.

The threat of the tower falling over caused firefighters and police on Tuesday evening to shut down the section of Luna Park that includes the Wonder Wheel ferris wheel as well as the world-renowned Cyclone roller coaster.

However, at around 11:00 Tuesday night, Luna Park’s public relations firm sent out a message on Facebook and other media, saying, “The Buildings Department has announced that the Astrotower is stable and poses no immediate risk.”

That did not mean the tower and the area around it were safe, however.  In fact, inspectors from the Buildings Department, FDNY, NYPD and the operator of Luna Park spent the day Wednesday examining the tower and meeting over whether or not it was safe to open up the amusement area.

Luna Park’s operators had hoped to reopen by noon Wednesday, but at that time, the park’s gates were locked tight.  Workers were on hand, providing some hope that the amusement park that was built in 2010 on the old Astroland park would open for the day sometime on Wednesday.

“We came down from Washington Heights,” said Nathan Newman, referencing the Upper Manhattan neighborhood where he and his elementary school-age daughter Lorelei live.  “It’s about an hour-and-a half to two-hour train ride, so it would be very sad if it didn’t open.”

 

The Chen Family had come to Luna Park from Nassau County on Long Island to celebrate the birthday of their son, Kelvin.  “Really upset,” is how Kelvin’s sister, Kelly, described how she felt about the closure of the park and the world famous roller coaster across the street.  “I was really looking forward to riding the Cyclone,” she told PIX11 News.

Throughout the day Wednesday, engineers assessed the sway, and tried to come to a decision on opening.  A source close to their discussions told PIX11 News around 1:30 P.M. Wednesday that there would be no opening, and at 2:00 P.M., management most of the staff home for the day.

Commissioner Limandri summed up the problem at a mid-afternoon news conference.  He pointed out that the Astrotower had for years swayed in the breeze and made a whistling sound as it did so.  Now, however, he said, it was more easily reaching its tolerance for movement.  And, Limandri added, “it’s reaching that tolerance at a very low wind speed.”

He said that the Astrotower, The Wonder Wheel, the Cyclone, Luna Park, and the Coney Island Boardwalk adjacent to Luna Park would all remain closed overnight, and until the Astrotower structure could be declared safe.

He also said, though, that there may only be one way to ensure the tower’s safety.  “As we dismantle the tower,” Limandri suggested, as a possible option, “we will look at the integrity of the foundation,” a move that he said would be done to determine if Superstorm Sandy was the cause of the tower’s more pronounced movements back and forth.

Management of Luna Park told workers who were scheduled for shifts on Thursday to report for work as usual.  That was no guarantee, though, that the amusement park will be able to open on what is usually one of its highest-grossing days of the year for ticket sales.

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