Letter: SPI plan is all wrong for Rye, county

To the Editor,

The following is an open letter to Chairman Michael Kaplowitz and the county Board of Legislators.

I am writing to you in the expectation that you will lead a thorough review and due diligence of all the proposals for Playland and not be locked-in to the flawed SPI plan.

I have lived at 14 Adelaide St. in Rye, 100 yards from the park for 46 years and served on the Playland Advisory Committee, from 1980 to 1983, which inspected the operation of Marriot’s Chicago Amusement Park prior to it being selected to run Playland in the early ‘80 or 19s, from 1980 to 1983. I am a retired engineer.

I am strongly opposed to the county’s plan to impose the intrusive year-round private sports complex in the Playland parking lot. This invasive commercial project is not in keeping with a seaside beach and amusement park with green space intended for rest and relaxation.

The SPI plan to build a $12 million 95,000-square-foot field house will adversely affect the quality of life and property values of those of us who live in the Ryan Park area and adjoining areas abutting the park.

The plan is flawed. It has morphed from the 2011 vision plan that deemphasized large capital intensive rides financed by debt and emphasized preservation of green space to the currant plan with costly, large rides and a 95,000-square-foot field house. The latter, Playland Sports told us, is so they can compete with Chelsea Piers and the Ardsley indoor sports complex. How could they not compete when operating tax free against the other enterprises that pay tax?

If built, the county will own this building. That means all of us who are Westchester taxpayers will be part owners. We will own a $12 million building built on marshland in a flood zone with a history of floods and severe storm damage. In the storm of 1952, the water was two-and-a-half feet deep. This raises the question of whether or not it will float due to the upward thrust of the displaced water.

The builders of the park knew what they were doing. They built the casino on the only piece of solid ground in the park out by the pier and sized the parking lot to enable sufficient visitors and, by extension, revenue. Two-point-eight million visitors in 1924, 1 million in 1980, the last year or operation by the Playland Commission; that year, the profit was $1 million.

The county wanted more profit. In 1981, it hired Marriott to run the park and introduced an admission fee in addition to the parking fee. One admission price for Westchester residents and a higher price for all others, making them feel second class. This caused people from New York City and Connecticut, who historically comprised 50 percent of visitors, to stay away in droves. The drop in attendance resulted in the concessionaires leaving with their rides since they could no longer make a profit. This discriminatory admission policy continues today.

Coney Island and Six flags amusement parks charge the same for everyone regardless of residency. I believe a single admissions policy, additional parking toll booths and clear signs for parking and admission costs are needed. Stationed along the parkway, they would provide advance notice to drivers like at JFK to speed the flow into the parking lots and avoid congestion and confusion. Segregating parking space, such as for the Tiki Bar, only restrict efficient utilization of available space.

Playland Sports explained that, if built on dry land in a commercial area, the field house would be about half the cost since waterproofing and false Art Deco façade would not be required.

The field zone has no synergy with the existing park and could be built anywhere on other county-owned land better suited for commercial use and save $6 million. I believe there are funds in the 2013 county budget for purchase of additional park land.

Will or can the field house be insured for storm and flood damage, or will the county be self-insured? FEMA is paying for the repair of damage from Sandy. Does the county expect FEMA to pay for damage to the field zone in the event of future storms?

Building the field zone and eliminating 900 parking spots guarantees the amusement area cannot make a profit even with SPI planning to use the green entry area and the shore zone meadow for parking. The meadow was previously playing fields, which buffer the Edith Read Conservancy. The playing fields could easily be restored. I played field hockey there for Rye and Westchester Field Hockey clubs

In conclusion, I believe this a horrible plan for the county. Is this to be the new business model for county parks losing money? If so, residents near other county parks which lose money should take notice. You could be next. I am referring to the 2013 county budget for parks, recreation and conservation. This shows the amusement area losing $2.2 million due to $3.4 million in debt service and the other 16 parks listed under the heading of parks collectively losing $16 million with $9.3 million in debt service.

If allowed to be built, the SPI Rye resident developers and financiers will do to Rye what Robert Moses tried but failed to do. That was to build a bridge across the sound from Oyster Bay to Rye, landing in the region of Grace Church Street and Manursing Island.

There are alternative solutions. One is for Central Amusements to operate the park. As evidenced at the Dec. 17, 2013 Government Operations Committee meeting. There, county Legislator Bill Ryan gave a well-reasoned case that SPI was not needed. Central Amusements, who was in attendance, stated it was ready, willing and able to run the whole park. Needless to say, SPI did not show up. Typical of the evasiveness we have experienced when trying to perform due diligence.

Remember, green space costs less to maintain than buildings and structures.

Ken Ball,