The Problem with Playland: Revitalizing and Reinventing Rye Playland
Will Sustainable Playland live up to its name?
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When the dust settled, however, Astorino chose to go forward with Sustainable Playland. In April, he held a press conference to announce a 10-year asset-management agreement with the group.
“Sustainable Playland was a winning combination of commercial and civic partnership,” says Westchester County Communications Director Ned McCormack. Unlike the other two finalists, Sustainable Playland looked at the whole 100 acres of Playland, instead of just the 25 acres taken up by the amusement park. SPI, as it is also known, will keep all seven historic rides intact, have a children’s museum, a year-round indoor field house, outdoor fields, a great lawn, a water park, a renovated ice rink, possibly an outdoor rink, and multiple year-round restaurant options, as well as an event space.
According to SPI spokesperson Geoff Thompson, “Playland is quaint, but antiquated. Young people today want more thrill rides and the amusement park as is can’t keep up. Also, the park is weather-dependent and, being that it’s only a seasonal destination, this dramatically decreases the opportunity to make a profit.”
What’s nice “about this option,” he adds, “is that it originated with a group of Rye residents. It is also a more environmental approach, which enhances the views and access to the water.”
SPI will invest $34 million of its own money. It will give $4 million upfront to the County and follow up with $1.2 million per year, with the potential (depending on revenue) of increasing that annual amount. The County currently owes upwards of $32 million in bonds, which it has had to borrow over the years to pay for the many repairs and improvements to the park, in addition to the park’s debt service.
Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of Westchester County Parks, believes that this option is a “win-win for the County and its residents. The park needs investments, which will take the burden off of the County—the residents shouldn’t have to put their hard-earned tax money towards the park.”
Though improvements are no doubt necessary for the park, not everyone welcomes such drastic changes. Meg Cameron, a close neighbor to Playland and a Rye resident for 25 years, says, “My first impulse is a nostalgic one. I kind of would like to see it stay as it is, but some proposed alternatives sound lovely and I am open to them.”
Cameron isn’t alone. A group called Save Rye Playland (saveplaylandamusementpark.org) is protesting SPI’s plan to reduce the size of the amusement park and the removal of certain rides. (The group does support the proposals of Standard Amusements and Central Amusements International, which keep Playland operating primarily as an amusement park.) The group started a petition in February of this year; as of press time, it had more than 2,000 signatures.
Others are happier to see the park moving forward. Denise Diaz, a longtime Rye resident and owner of Rue des Crêpes in Harrison, believes that SPI will be good for the park. “People need to let go of their nostalgia, because the park is clearly failing as is,” she says. “Playland is and has been for a long time a bleeding artery. If this were a person, they would be dead already.” She suggested that it should be “more Central Park meets Bryant Park” in Manhattan, offering a wide range of ideas as to what to do to improve it. “There could be paddle boarding, yoga classes, a summer stage theater, a weekly movie and/or documentary night, and perhaps a Halloween dog parade for adoptable dogs from County shelters. Also, from a restaurant owner’s perspective, there needs to be better food options for the public.”