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Astrotower's Demolition Sparks Concerns From Business Owners, Residents

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Luna Park has reopened after a morning of construction sparked by the swaying Astrotower observation tower.

"The City has removed a safe portion of the Astrotower and permitted Luna Park to open," the attraction said on its Facebook page.

City officials said Thursday that the entire Astrotower will eventually be demolished -- not just part of the iconic structure, as originally thought by some.

Meanwhile, the Fourth of July was no holiday for work crews at Coney Island's Luna Park.

They were at work early Thursday morning to dismantle the iconic tower, a 275-foot observation tower on West 10th Street,  after concerns it could topple over, CBS 2's Weijia Jiang reported.

The work continued throughout the day -- an exhausting job for workers using torches to maneuver the metal.

The tower take-down began around 2 a.m. Two massive cranes were moved into the park as crews dismantled the building panel by panel.

Even during the early morning hours, locals poured out to watch the demolition.

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The decision to remove the Astrotower on the July 4 stirred up mixed emotions in many, who said that while safety is paramount, timing couldn't be worse.

Resident Howard Simon got to the park at 1:30 a.m. Thursday to watch the Astrotower go. He said he remembers riding the tower as a little boy.

"This is historic, the Astrotower starting to come down," he said. "You grow up with the Astrotower so it's really something seeing it come down. I just hope they do something to maybe preserve it somehow, maybe rebuild it in another part of the park."

The move has brought on tough questions and concerns, especially from business owners banking on a busy July 4.

"I lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy and now this," said Coney Island business owner Carlo Muraco. "They waited all year. Why'd they wait all year to decide that this was unsafe?"

Luna Park and Coney Island announced the plans to remove the tower Wednesday night, citing "an abundance of caution."

"We've come to the conclusion that the most expedient way and the fastest way to get the park up and running and be safe for all New Yorkers is to remove part of the tower immediately," Department of Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri said.

Luna Park officials said they still hope to save what is left of the tower after the demolition.

The Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster, the Wonder Wheel and some other famed New York amusements have been shut down since Tuesday afternoon.

The Astrotower, which was installed in 1964, has not been in use since 2010. It once offered visors 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean and Brooklyn. It sits across the street from the Cyclone.

Along with the Parachute Jump – which has been out of service as a ride since 1964 – the Astrotower is considered a symbol of the Coney Island amusements.

"As soon as you enter Coney Island, you see the tower stand up tall, and then you see the Parachute Jump, and you know you're in Coney Island right away," said resident Eric Kowalsky. "Even though it's not a ride, it still stands as a symbol of what used to be; last remnants of Astroland Park."

But others said it was time for the tower to go.

"They should've taken it down a long time ago," said former Coney Island resident Joseph Baldwin. "Put something else up there. Put up something that means something, not just a ride."

The FDNY, the Office of Emergency Management and engineers from the Buildings Department spent Wednesday inspecting the Astrotower. But even before demolition was discussed, some seemed to think the nearly 50-year-old structure was soon just to be a Coney Island memory.

"So what we wanted to do is to decide and figure out what it is that it can tolerate for sway or movement and then base it on data," LiMandri said.

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