By CHRIS EBERHART
Finally, Playland has a new operator. That is for now, at least.
A private-public partnership with Standard Amusements to run the county-owned amusement park was approved by the Westchester County Board of Legislators in a somewhat surprising vote on June 15.
As part of the approved 15-year Playland management agreement between the county and Standard Amusements, Standard will invest $25 million—$2.25 million in upfront costs to the county and invest $22.75 million directly into the 87-year-old amusement park—and pay annual rising payments to the county starting at $300,000. The county will receive 7.5 percent of the profits once Standard recoups its initial investment.
“With this vote, we have saved Playland and given rebirth to Playland for the next 87 years,” Board of Legislators Chairman Mike Kaplowitz, a Yorktown Democrat, said.
But there is a provision in the management agreement that includes an opt-out clause for Standard that allows the group to walk away before Nov. 1, 2015. But by doing so, it would leave its initial payments of $500,000 on the table.
Kaplowitz compared the agreement to a marriage and said, “The wedding is on Nov. 1 and hopefully the groom shows up.”
If the wedding is on Nov. 1, the engagement period is the time between now and the end of October, during which Standard and the county will enter into a co-management period, where the county will remain the sole decision maker but Standard will study Playland’s operations.
Ned McCormack, spokesperson for Republican County Executive Rob Astorino, told the Review he’s confident Standard Amusements will still be around come Nov. 1.
“We wouldn’t have gotten to this stage if it wasn’t a good deal, and I don’t think they would’ve come this far to back out,” McCormack said.
Just hours before the final, full legislative board vote on June 15, legislators were working with the executive branch and county attorneys to finalize language in three memorandums of understanding that were attached to the Playland management agreement and essentially memorialize the legislative review over the past two months.
The promise of no inclusion of fields into the plan by Nick Singer, who heads Standard Amusements, was included in one memorandum, and the county’s promise to retain all 29 of Playland’s full-time workers as county employees to preserve their state pensions was included in the second one. The third memorandum was a list of capital projects for Playland that the county must pay for, which includes the colonnades, fixing the lights on Playland Parkway and the Playland pathway, among other projects.
County Legislator Catherine Parker, a Rye Democrat, pushed the county executive’s office to specifically include which projects the county would be responsible for financing.
“Until the specific capital improvements were memorialized in writing, I could not have supported this proposal,” Parker said. “But I was satisfied with the MOU, and my colleagues were satisfied. And it’s a great position that the county is putting some skin in the game like Standard is.”
Just to get to this point was five years in the making with more twists and turns than Playland’s iconic Dragon Coaster.
Before Astorino was elected county executive, he blazed the 2009 campaign trail with promises of revitalizing a Playland that had become stale and dated. Soon after taking office in 2010, he sent out a request for proposals to potential bidders and received 12 responses by March 2011 with varying versions of how to reinvent the park for the 21st century.
Standard Amusements submitted its proposal but ended up runner up to Astorino’s preferred choice, a Rye-based non-profit startup called Sustainable Playland, Inc., but the SPI vision quickly came under fire after it was realized that the biggest component of the plan was to construct a 95,000-square-foot field house in Playland’s main parking lot shrinking the size of the amusement park.
The result was an attack from all sides.
Rye residents of the Ryan Park neighborhood abutting Playland spent nearly a year contesting SPI’s proposal. County legislators asked questions during the legislative review process that SPI couldn’t answer. And the City of Rye was preparing for a legal battle with Astorino’s administration over land use jurisdiction.
The non-profit ultimately decided to pull its proposal in June 2014, which opened the door for the county to reconsider Standard Amusements. But not before Astorino hired Dan Biederman, a renowned developer who is best known for redeveloping Bryant Park in New York City, for $100,000 to serve as a consultant on Playland. The report was originally scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014 but wasn’t released until April 2015.
In the meantime, as the Review reported in February 2015, the Astorino administration had begun negotiating with Standard Amusements behind closed doors, as was the recommendation in the withheld Biederman’s report.