By CHRIS EBERHART and PHIL NOBILE
For the past six months, Rye resident George Szczerba has worried about the large-scale sports field house poised for construction in Playland’s parking lot and the impact it could have, sitting in a flood zone, just 30 yards away from his home.
A five-line provision tucked away in the project’s asset management agreement between the county executive and Sustainable Playland, Inc. could mean his worries have just begun.
The asset management agreement–signed by County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, and SPI in July 2013—turned over the park’s day-to-day operations to SPI and allowed the Rye-based nonprofit to renovate the iconic Westchester amusement park.
In the agreement, the Review has learned a clause provides for allowable additional uses of the field house facility— now proposed at 82,500 square-feet in size—including, but not limited to, “community business functions, awards banquets, civic gatherings, Boy/Girl Scout functions and exotic car shows.”
Whether or not the additional activities provision will be exercised remains a difference of opinion between SPI and the Astorino administration.
SPI said the need for field space in the area will prevent this provision from ever happening.
“The demand for sports fields in Westchester far outstrips the available field space,” Geoff Thompson, spokesperson for SPI, said. “[SPI’s] intention is to run a 52-weeks-a-year sports facility, and they feel they will have no problem filling this time.”
Conversely, Astorino’s spokesperson, Ned McCormack, said the county plans on “maximizing the field house within the confines of what the agreement allows.”
“We can host a big fundraiser there or have a gala,” McCormack said. “It’s an attractive space. We have to wait for an actual business plan, right now we’re thinking about four steps ahead. What we like about it is it creates a year-round destination for the park.”
According to Thompson, the “additional activities” provision was included in the agreement by SPI, but he would not say why.
The new uncertainty over this aspect of the proposal raises additional questions and concerns over a project that has been under building scrutiny ever since SPI officially signedon to manage the park last year.
After the Playland Improvement Plan, which details SPI’s plan, was released in September 2013, neighbors around the amusement park were concerned with the field house project and the subsequent issues related to parking, traffic and floodwaters overflowing into their streets.
Now neighbors’ concerns have grown to include this provision, which Szczerba, who lives in Rye’s Ryan Park neighborhood abutting the amusement park, said he nor his neighbors knew anything about.
“The question [about alternative uses] has been brought up to SPI before, but it’s typical of them not to answer,” Szczerba said. “It’s mindboggling that they can host car shows and whatever else in this thing. What’s going to come next? A WWE match? I’m at a loss for words, but I’m definitely not happy about this.”
Ken Ball, Szczerba’s neighbor, voiced his displeasure with the provision as well and wondered why this was never brought to light.
“Everything is so damn secretive [with SPI],” Ball said. “There’s no honesty. We’ve had umpteen conversations with them, and they never said anything about this.”
It also seems as if the Rye City Council was unaware of the allowance for uses other sporting events included in the management agreement.
County Legislator Catherine Parker, a Rye Democrat who sat on the Rye City Council until the end of 2013, confirmed to the Review the council was unaware of the provision. Parker said she only caught wind of it this year after taking county office in January. She said the city never received a copy of the county’s agreement with SPI.
Rye Deputy Mayor Laura Brett, a Republican, would not comment on whether the City Council knew about the provision but said “Any uses of that field space is a concern for the council…Flooding, parking, traffic—all those things are quality of life concerns for our residents, which is why [SPI’s] proposal has to go through our land use boards.”
The asset management agreement was a public document made available after it was signed on July 23, 2013.
Despite assertions from SPI the field house will only be used for sports-related events, a similar field house in Pennsylvania, which is managed by Pinnacle Indoor Sports—the same group signed by SPI to manage the proposed field house in Rye—has been hosting events such as gun shows and expos at that facility.
The BucksMont Indoor Sports Center in Hatfield, Penn., is a 78,000-square-foot field house that boasts two indoor soccer fields, four volleyball courts, three basketball courts and other modern athletic amenities—all similar specs to the proposed field house in Rye.
But the field house in Hatfield has become much more than just a location for sporting events. Exotic shows like reptile expos and a variety of other corporate events and trade shows have been held at the facility in the past few years.
Thompson attributed the Pennsylvania facility opening up its field house to expos as having “slow periods between sports seasons” and being “less populated.”
“[Slow periods] are not the case in this region,” Thompson said. “The lack of athletic fields and the large number of participants in various sports is far greater here and greater than the supply of field space.”
But the local project’s future is currently shrouded in doubt as SPI suspended a Westchester County Board of Legislators review of its Playland Improvement Plan on April 1 after the City of Rye self-designated itself as lead agency, which would allow the city to have final say over the project.
Over Easter weekend, county Legislator Mike Kaplowitz, a Yorktown Democrat and chairman of the Board of Legislators, imposed a May 1 deadline on SPI to decide if the Rye-based nonprofit will continue on with the project. The county board must approve the agreement between the Astorino administration and SPI in order for SPI to move forward with any of its capital work aimed at redeveloping the amusement park.
SPI officials met on April 22, but as of press time have not withdrawn their proposal. The Board of Legislators’ review of the PIP remains suspended.
Rye Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, could not be reached for comment as of press time.
-With reporting by Liz Button