By Helen Cook
New York, Apr 9 (EFE).- The giant Ferris wheel and amusement park at Coney Island, a century-old icon of the Big Apple, reopened Friday after being shuttered for 529 days because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Deno “DJ” Vourderis, the co-owner of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, told Efe.
“We’re still in that tunnel, but now we can see the exit,” he said standing under the 46 m (151 ft) wheel erected in 1920 by his grandfather, Denos Vourderis.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, US Sen. Chuck Schumer and other public officials came out to Coney Island – originally an island but now a peninsula on the south side of the Big Apple borough of Brooklyn.
The overcast skies and chilly winds did nothing to dampen the celebratory spirit.
Folks, Coney Island is one of the national symbols of New York and when it opens, the world knows New York is coming back!,” Brooklyn native Schumer told the crowd.
De Blasio hailed the reopening as “one of the best days of the year.”
“Coney Island comes back, the rides come back and now New York City will come back. You can feel it,” the mayor said before joining several members of the Vourderis family for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Along with the Wonder Wheel, Coney Island is known for Luna Park, home to the Cyclone roller-coaster, built in 1927.
Though pandemic-spurred shutdowns did not begin until March 2020, the attractions at Coney Island, which operate only in the warm-weather months, have been closed since October 2019.
Under New York State’s post-lockdown rules, the attractions are limited to 33 percent of their normal capacity and required to enforce masking and social distancing, among other attractions.
For Friday’s gala re-opening, DJ Vourderis invited 100 employees from Coney Island Hospital to ride the Wonder Wheel.
“It’s a great honor for us to bring some joy into the lives of many New Yorkers, Brooklynites, and people from all over the world to come, have fun and smile again,” he said.
Coney Island, Vourderis said, is the “greatest example of resilience even in the toughest times. It’s a place where people have always come to find comfort.”
But amid the excitement, he stressed that the Wonder Wheel will operate in a “responsible and safe” manner with full awareness that the pandemic continues. EFE hc/dr