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Coney Island gets late start to big holiday weekend as swaying Astrotower is partially demolished

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CONEY ISLAND (PIX11) – The iconic Coney Island tower whose structural problems kept part of the world famous amusement area shut down for nearly two days is now a fraction of its size.  It reduced crowds by a fraction as well, but the result is reopened rides, including the world famous Cyclone roller coaster, and greater resolve by lovers of Coney Island to show their devotion by not staying away on this Independence Day holiday.

Luna Park amusement area in coney Island is now back open, but not after  demolition crews worked overnight, throughout the morning and into the early afternoon.   With blowtorches sparking, they dismantled the three-story red cap atop the 250-foot-tall Astrotower, the last vestige of the old Astroland amusement area, which had been located where Luna Park is now.

By 1:30 Thursday afternoon, the two cranes used to carry out the demolition work were brought down.  Luna Park workers began to appear on site and test out amusement rides.

Their arrival was too late for some beachgoers, like the Porto Family.  Alissa Porto had brought her four cousins who were visiting from Buffalo to Coney Island specifically to visit Luna Park. “We did want to go on the rides, we did,” Porto said. “But we’ll be okay.  We’re Coney Island fans.”

There are usually about 800,000 other fans on the 4th of July, but with the Astrotower swaying at least a foot-and-a-half either way prior to its demolition, building inspectors had to close down everything within 250 feet of the base of the tower, including the Cyclone.

That changed at 2:50 Thursday afternoon, when the padlocks were removed from the Luna Park and Cyclone gates.

“We lost thousands and thousands of dollars,” said Wanda DeJesus, the operator of the Polar Express ride.  The city councilmember for the area, Dominic Recchia, estimated the reduction in crowds to be “about thirty, maybe forty percent.”

However, as Jimmy Kokotas, owner of Tom’s Restaurant on the boardwalk pointed out, the bulk of the Independence Day attendance shows up in the late afternoon and evening, as the beach prepares for fireworks.  “It’s too soon to tell,” he said about any loss of business due to Luna Park’s temporary closure.

Luna Park has now resumed its normal hours, but activity in the beachside amusement area won’t be completely normal for a few more days, according to Buildings Commissioner Robert Limandri.

“At 1:00 A.M., we’ll resume demolition work,” Commissioner Limandri said in a mid-afternoon news conference, adding that, for possibly the next few days, work crews will continue to cut down the former Astrotower until it is deemed appropriate in height by his department.

He also said that the city will conduct tests to see if Superstorm Sandy damage beneath the surface caused the swaying problem.