The Problem with Playland: Revitalizing and Reinventing Rye Playland
Will Sustainable Playland live up to its name?
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Mamaroneck resident Chris Szymanowski, a local business owner, agrees. “The park needs to go to the private sector,” he says. “There are a thousand places to have picnics, but picnics don’t make money. Also, there is so much wasted space. It needs to be four seasons. There isn’t enough to bring you back several times a year. If you go once a season, it’s plenty.”
SPI seems to address all of Diaz’s and Szymanowski’s concerns. In fact, the County has hired Dan Biederman of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures Corporation to work alongside SPI in re-imagining the park. Biederman is well known for his work with transforming Bryant Park into the success it is today. “I understand the tremendous emotional attachment,” he says, “but believe that Playland is a better physical site for a mix of uses, instead of just as a one-season amusement park.”
Karen Pecora, president of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) Unit 9200, doesn’t believe that SPI is the best option for the park. “They plan on making it a quiet park by drastically reducing the amusement park aspect, and I don’t think that is the best use for it. In my opinion, the best case would be for the County to continue to run it and find better ways to make money, but I think that every effort should be made for it to remain an amusement park. It’s nice not only for the County, but for its kids, its schools, and its families.”
There are also some who would argue that there isn’t a problem with Playland at all. Ken Jenkins, chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, notes that “in a 2007-08 report, it was found that Playland was the cheapest park run for the residents of the County. It is also the only park to have dollars associated with it. When broken down, it only costs two dollars and change per resident to keep it running. The park generates $28 million in outside revenue for those visiting it by means of gas, dining, et cetera. It’s nearly impossible to say that Playland is losing money when the revenue figures that have been presented to the board of legislators by the administration do not include substantial profit centers like parking, mini-golf, and concessions—nothing, really, outside of ride fees—which is why we will be conducting an independent audit of the park this year. This will help identify whether more efficient and cost-cutting procedures are currently being overlooked.”
On the issue of plummeting attendance, Jenkins says that “it was only since 2008 that attendance was actually counted by the use of wristbands. Up until that point, the numbers were only estimates.”
The website playlandwatch.org notes that revenue for the park was actually increasing. “Revenue was $11.2 million in 2010, $11.6 million in 2011, more than a 9 percent increase compared to 2009. In 2005, the County counted [attendance by] cars (at 4 people per car) and did not charge an entry fee. In 2010, they counted people and charged an entry fee. While its true attendance may be down from peak years, attendance in 2005 and 2010 and 2011 was approximately 590,000, 400,000 and 420,000, respectively. Attendance last year was about even compared to the year before.”
Jenkins also has concerns about SPI’s proposal. “If the County is concerned with making money, Sustainable Playland is actually investing the least amount of money,” he says, noting that although SPI will invest $34 million (a larger amount than the other two proposals), that sum involves additional bonds. “Also, they are looking to put in ball fields, which will take up a large part of the current parking area, so where exactly will people park who will be coming to it and/or Playland?”
In October 2012, however, Astorino began the third and final phase and a letter of intent was issued to SPI. At present, he is waiting on the asset-management agreement to be finalized. But does he have the power to make this decision on his own?
According to Chairperson of Government Relations for Westchester County Catherine Borgia, this is not a done deal as the county executive claims it is. Other options are still being weighed, and the legislators are in the process of doing the aforementioned audit on the park.
After speaking with members of the board of legislators, it became apparent that they didn’t feel as if they were involved in the entire process. They scheduled a public meeting in mid-February and asked all three finalists (including SPI), as well as the newly added Paidia Company, aka Legoland, which also submitted a proposal, to present their plans and submit to a question-and-answer period.