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Partial Demolition Of Coney Island Astrotower Set To Begin

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Part of the iconic Astrotower at Coney Island will have to be demolished, after concerns about the tower's structural stability prompted a shutdown of several amusements on the Brooklyn peninsula.

The NYPD escorted two massive cranes to Luna Park on Wednesday night, and partial demolition was to begin soon afterward. Crews were to work throughout the night in hopes of reopening the park for the Fourth of July on Thursday.

"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.

As CBS 2's Hazel Sanchez reported, many were crestfallen at the prospect of watching the structure be dismantled.

"I rode it when I was a little boy. My father took my older brothers and me on it," said Michael Schwartz. "And it represents a lot of memories."

He said the demolition was like tearing apart a piece of history.

"It breaks my heart in a way," he said. "I know change has to come eventually. Nothing stands forever."

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.

Parts Of Coney Island's Amusement Park Reopened As Astrotower Examined

A 250-foot "collapse zone" was set up around the tower, WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported. The radius included the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone roller coaster – both of which are operated separately from Luna Park – as well as parts of the Coney Island boardwalk.

As 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck reported, it was common knowledge for years that the Astrotower sways back and forth. But LiMandri said the sway is more than usual, and it just not safe enough to keep the surrounding area of Luna Park open.

Parts Of Coney Island's Amusement Park Reopened As Astrotower Examined

"What we've been able to do anecdotally, and now with some raw data, is to determine that it's approaching a position where it's too much sway," he said. "Therefore, we need to take some action."

The tower used to have a circular elevator, which was recently removed. LiMandri said the removal affected its stability.

Before the announcement of the planned demolition, there were doubts as to whether the surrounding amusements could reopen by Thursday.

The Fire Department got a call Tuesday that the Astrotower was shifting in the wind, prompting the amusement park to be evacuated and closed early.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday initial assessments indicated the tower was stable. Parts of the park opened around noon, but attractions closer to the tower stayed closed.

"But we're keeping the area right near the tower closed until we're certain, and that includes Luna Park, the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel,'' Bloomberg said.

"We want to make sure that Coney's open to everybody, but safety is, obviously, everybody's first priority, so we will have an abundance of caution, but we are optimistic,'' Bloomberg added.

Carlo Muraco owns several businesses near the tower. He told CBS 2's Sanchez he was forced to close his doors.

"I lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment trying to recover after Hurricane Sandy, and now this," he said. "They waited all year. Why did they wait a year to decide this is unsafe?

Luna Park was evacuated and closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday as a precaution after the fire department received a call around 4:20 p.m. that the tower was swaying.

City building inspectors spent several hours examining the tower, highlighting its movement with a red laser pointer.

Tuesday night, the park posted on its Facebook page that the swaying of the tower was "more pronounced than usual" but that the Buildings Department said it was "stable and poses no immediate risk."

By 11 p.m., Surf Avenue and the surrounding areas were reopened.

Park officials say the tower is like a skyscraper and was built to tilt.

"She dances, she's got some movement in the wind," said Nicole Purmal with Luna Park. "That's something we're used to here at Luna Park but when people visit and they're unaware that there is a degree of sway to it, it can be surprising."

"The rest of Coney Island is open and ready for action, including the beach, the boardwalk, the aquarium, and, of course, Nathan's is serving its famous wares to chowhounds from around the world,'' Bloomberg said. "And we expect thousands of people to head out to Coney Island for the biggest dog show in the world.''

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.

Winds of 5 to 10 mph were not a factor.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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