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Sustainable Playland Group Selected to Revamp Playland

Astorino: Letter of intent signed for $34M plan for capital improvements at county-owned park.

Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino has signed a letter of intent with a Rye non-profit organization to lead an overhaul of the county-owned Playland park in Rye.

"Saving Playland has been a priority for me since the day I took office," Astorino said. "What do you do with one of the most beautiful pieces of property anywhere, whose amusement park has been an untenable drain on county taxpayers? We started with a blank sheet of paper an asked experts — ranging from industry professionals to school kids who love the rides  — to help us draw a new future."

Astorino said the letter of intent with Sustainable Playland Inc. is a civic-commercial partnership that preserves tradition by embracing innovation to keep Playland financially sound for generations to come.

Astorino said Sustainable Playland has assembled a team of leading amusement, sports, restaurant and park operators for an effort to revamp Playland, a 100-acre site along the Long Island Sound.

New elements at Playland would include:

- Aqua Zone, with a mini water park and beach attractions

- Outdoor ball fields and an field house with indoor facilities

- A renovation of the Playland ice rink and a new, outdoor winter ice rink

- A Great Lawn, with sweeping views of the Long Island Sound that can be used for a variety of events, such as graduations, concerts and corporate-sponsored events.

- Indoor multi-use facility, which can be rented for parties, weddings, meetings and conferences

- New restaurants.

Astorino signed a letter of intent to develop an Asset Management Agreement with Sustainable’s president Dhruv Narain of Rye resident. The process to select Sustainable as the park’s new operator began in August 2010 when Astorino formally sought ideas to address chronic losses that have been running $3 million to $5 million annually.

Out of the 12 proposals reviewed by the county and a citizens committee, Astorino said Sustainable was chosen because it had the best vision for the park financially and operationally, as well as far-reaching experience and strong local ties. 

“The strength of our proposal is its breadth and depth,” said Narain, whose team includes advisors from across Westchester. “We see the park as a year-round destination for everyone. Singles, couples, families, businesses – anyone who wants to spend time in a beautiful place surrounded by fun things to do, and not just in the summer. By building ball fields, creating new water attractions, developing a Great Lawn, expanding the ice skating, and adding new restaurants, we are giving more people more reasons to come on more days throughout the year and more to do once they get here.”

Under a proposed 10-year management agreement, Westchester will receive an upfront payment of $4 million from Sustainable, as well as a minimum payment of  $1.2 million a year. The money will go toward retiring the county’s existing $32 million of debt on Playland.

The plan will save the county $18 million in interest and principal payments over the remaining 12-year life of the bonds, Astorino said. 

Sustainable will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of both the amusement area and the surrounding 100 acres of parkland. Proceeds to pay the county, maintain the grounds and make capital improvements will come from the fees Sustainable charges the operators it will hire to run various elements throughout the park.

Under Sustainable’s plan, general admission will be free, as will entrance to the new Great Lawn. Throughout the park, attractions will be grouped into a variety of zones, such as amusement, water, beach and fields, with fees charged for various activities.

Sustainable’s management structure is that of a holding company. It views the various activities in the park as “assets” and has assembled a nationally renowned team of operators to run them. Overseeing the overall operation as the “asset manager” will be Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, headed by Dan Biederman, a Chappaqua resident whose experience includes co-founding and managing the Bryant Park Corporation, the 34th  Street Partnership, the Grand Central Partnership and heading major efforts in Manhattan to bring private resources and management techniques to bear on public problems.  

 Operational members of the Sustainable Playland team include:

  • Amusement Park, Beach and Aqua Adventure: Steve Turk and the Mega Funworks Team. (Capital investment: upwards of $7 million)
  • Indoor Field House and Outdoor Fields: John Abate and Eric DeGraw of Westchester Sports Center. (Capital investment: $12.4 million)
  • Indoor and Outdoor Ice Skating: Shane Coppola of American Skating Entertainment Centers. (Capital investment: $600,000)
  • Restaurants/Multi-use Facility: Various operators. (Capital investment: $6.6 million). 

“This is a better business model,” Biederman said. “We have multiple operators who must each stand on their own. This means Playland’s future will no longer be tied to having all its eggs in one basket – a 90-day amusement park whose attendance and revenue can be dramatically altered by bad weather on a few key weekends. Operational and financial diversity will greatly enhance our chances of success by increasing our growth potential and decreasing our risk exposure.”

Twelve companies presented ideas to Westchester County. They were then reviewed by a 19-member Citizens Advisory Committee, which included members of the Board of Legislators (Democrats Bill Ryan and Judy Myers and Republican Sheila Marcotte), local elected officials, and business, civic, church and student representatives. Sustainable was among the Citizens Committee’s top ranked recommendations, along with Standard Amusements and Central Amusements International.

“This has been a thoughtful and open process,” said Jim Chisholm, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee, who is also chairman of the Westchester County Parks Board. “The final selection of Sustainable Playland validates the hard work and suggestions of our committee.” 

The criteria used by the Citizens Committee for its review were called the “5 Es.”

  • Economics – Did the proposal provide a financially viable, long-term business model?
  • Environment – Was the proposal appropriate and sensitive to local surroundings? 
  • Entertainment – Were the proposed activities consistent with the mission of a park?
  • Experience – Did the proposers have a track record of success?
  • Expectations – Did the proposal come with a realistic chance of completion in a reasonable amount of time?

“Sustainable did the best job of meeting all the criteria,” Astorino said. “Economic viability, environmental sensitivity, entertainment quality, and the level of experience of this team gave us the confidence that we could move forward quickly on making the new vision a reality.”

With the letter of intent signed, the next step is for the county and Sustainable to enter into a legally binding contract. Astorino hopes this can be done within 90 days.

“Once we have a contract, we can start moving immediately,” Narain said. “Some aspects of the plan will take longer than others, but our portfolio approach will allow us to move forward in phases. My guess is that the first phase will be to build the ball fields and they can be operational within 12 weeks from the start of construction. If we get an early enough start, we could also be running the amusement area this summer.”

The plan calls for the amusement park to be open for the 2013 season, whether run by the county or by Sustainable.

Astorino said all the necessary approvals would be secured in an open and collaborative manner.

“We have a number of stakeholders – the Board of Legislators, the City of Rye, the Town of Rye, the County Parks Board – that need to be part of the process,” Astorino said. “This is a team effort.”

Astorino stressed that Sustainable’s $34 million commitment to Playland can’t get started until a contract is finalized.

“We have some of the best sports, entertainment and restaurant companies in the country now coming into Westchester as part of this new venture,” said Astorino. “A revitalized Playland will be a job creator: summer jobs, construction jobs,  career training and opportunities tied to the park’s new operations.”

Alexandra Powell October 11, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Excellent Choice!!
Andrew Weiss October 11, 2012 at 05:07 PM
It is encouraging that this project is in play.
Ross Revira October 11, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Great idea. The landed aristocracy in Rye will never go along but it is still a great and forwarding thinking plan.
William Demarest (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 07:10 PM
County Exec Rob Astorino says he thinks it's urgent that the proposed deal with Sustainable Playland not get caught up in "red tape." He contends delays in the process would hurt Playland's future and the county's economy.
Aidan October 11, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Why not? Playland's become a mess of late. This makes great use of its greatest assets. It's smart.
William Demarest (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 07:50 PM
If you had a say in the future of Playland, what would you say should be part of a revitalization (and money-making) effort.....?
Vicki Edmonds October 11, 2012 at 10:29 PM
As a Rye resident I am so delighted that this proposal has been selected. In fact I can allay some fears expressed above since I know many "landed aristocrats" and those of us living in more modest dwellings in Rye who are very excited about this plan. It preserves history, builds a unique waterside venue on this part of the Sound and has a strong "year round" financial model. Let's make it happen!
George in NY October 12, 2012 at 10:38 AM
Ross I take it that is some sort of insult " landed aristocracy " regarding Rye residents? Gee I guess that is me then, my palace in Rye was a nice basement apartment. My courtly duties busing tables off at buffet colonnades during summer back in the day ( 60's to date myself ). Later ran the old tractors in kiddy land. Reality check, never did in my first 19 years, I ever bump into any aristocracy in Rye despite attending Rye public schools. Yes there were many people who held prestige jobs and were involved with community. But I never felt oppressed by any landed whatever. As a child enjoyed Playland, as an adult enjoyed Playland with my children, as a grand parent enjoyed it with grand kids. It has evolved through the years, like many things, I believe it was far better back in the day, never the less. Any plan to keep Playland in existence should be supported. Far better than no plan at all. I have no doubt that the residents of Rye, at all social economic levels, will support the plan IF it is a good one. Sign me Former landed aristocracy.
George in NY October 12, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Having grown up in Rye and having Playland memories stand out as a big part of my childhood, teenage years, and adulthood what I miss most is the PICNIC AREA. Not a monetized food section, just an area with old picnic benches where families staked out a table or even two for the day. It in itself doesn't make money but a family enjoying a day in the PARK will spend what they can. MY Playland was not a monetized amusement park, it was a family park with some nice rides, nice beach area, and some small vendor food operations. Playland is now thought of really as an amusement park that happens to be owned by government. What I wish it could be again is simply a park for Westchester residents to bring their kids and spend a lovely day by the sound. The elaborate rides should be left to real private amusement parks. The big draws in my day, bumper cars, the whip, and the Funhouse. Now the funhouse you could spend an hour in just trying to stay on the spinning saucer or not fall in the spinning barrel. It was a sad day when it burned down and not replaced. The biggest problem with the Playland today is that it is no longer just a simple residents of Westchester Park. It is an asset to be monetized. It should be a place to leave wi-fi at home, a park with a few rides to go and listen to the waves, smell some popcorn, and enjoy your family. I know I am getting old and naive, sentimental even.
Billy L October 15, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Mr. Demarest, I strongly feel this plan is the wrong one for Playland. I feel Playland is a place that is beautifully crafted that needed not reinvention but rather a little investment in a way that appeals to the park's history. I represent a group of concerned citizens that have brought our ideas forward in our group 'Save Rye Playland' on Facebook. What would have like to see what a company like Central Amusement come in, add new and more rides and also rebuild some of the park's lost structures, like the north colonnades and one of the towers that was lost in 2005. The bulk of the money "lost" at Playland seasonally is not on the operations of the park itself but on debt servicing. To say the park is a money loser is not fair since no other park in the county system has ever had to account for payments on debt servicing to their bottom line. We also feel that the park needs to remain a full amusement park, without shrinking the amusement section. A great lawn and sculpture gardens do not have a place on the land of the one of the country's last standing traditional, old fashioned amusement parks. We would love to see the once and famous, historic Airplane Coaster rebuilt. The park does still have the original plans and it can be done. A master plan commissioned by the county in 2004 made the same recommendation, but many were not implemented. We would like to see the original gates and colonnades rebuilt.
Billy L October 15, 2012 at 01:43 PM
The Airplane Coaster is key to all of this because you lose a demographic. We all love and cherish the Dragon Coaster but as roller coasters go, it's not very intense of a ride. You will bring more people, more from the demographics (late teens) that the park lacks. A company like Central Amusements would indemnify the county from liability, keep the rides in the park, add new ones and keep the county from the direct operations, and thus financial vulnerability that comes with running a seasonal business. Sadly, Sustainable Playland is going to transform the park into something it was never meant to be. It is an amusement park first and foremost and they taking the emphasis off of that. Adding new shops and restaurants is not a bad idea but as long as the original amusement footprint remains intact, with a historic restoration you would save the county money and bring throngs of people to the park. Just imagine the excitement at the county's first new wooden roller coaster in years, not to mention one as large and imposing as the Airplane. It's amazing how the centerpiece of the argument facing Playland was the loss of attendance when Sustainable Playland's plan will cut attendance in half since there will be a lot less amusements. It seems, despite what they have said, that there primary concern is reducing traffic and noise, and the crowds coming to Rye, especially since they are mostly Rye residents. I can it being an issue if you've been living there since before 1928.
HEALtheHARBOR.com October 16, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Great Job Rob! I support Sustainable Playland and have been behind them from inception. I believe their concepts to preserve Playland’s past and preserve its future are fantastic. Some of my fondest childhood memories took place on the beach and the boardwalk at Playland. Later on as a young adult my family owned concessions at the park for years. I still visit the park today on a regular basis, if not for a short run, maybe a long walk in the early AM. I thank you for preserving those childhood memories for future generations to enjoy as I did when I was a kid. They were and are still, very special times. On a similar note located less than a half mile along the shoreline of the Sound, Hen Island is Playland’s closest neighbor. It continues to be a threat to all that attend the park now and in the future. I am sure you will be amazed after watching the below linked video at the health threat that has been ignored in Rye by the current administration lead by Mayor Doug French. Any attention you could give us on this would be very much appreciated. https://vimeo.com/47034186#
Robert - Rye October 16, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Growing up in RYE and as someone from the 30's demographic, I have only seen playland evolve over the past 30 years. I can remember a time where it was safe and it didnt matter how grand the rides were it was fun being there. I would walk over to the park and spend hours there unsupervised in my early teens. At one point my parents would no longer wanted me at the park alone, even in my late teens. In recent times a certain demographic has been attracted and the local westchester community has been pushed asside. I not only speak of Rye residents and their family's but also surrounding areas north of the boroughs. I believe that there should be nights designated for Westchester Residents. I believe that camps outside of westchester should be limited to certain days of the week. After looking at the plans it seems as though the rides will continue to be close to the parking lot. Having restaurants and other entertainment with no parking close will be a problem for local residents who would normally come over just for dinner or an evening. They will not walk to the back side of the park. I think it would be nice, now that there are ball fields, to have summer camps held and owned by westchester county for westchester residents.
Robert - Rye October 16, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Part 2 I believe all in all the waterfront is misused in this space as there is no waterfront dinning in most of westchester's LI Sound side. Any waterfront establishments are greatly needed and will be visited regularly by locals if the right atmosphere is constructed. Overall I believe safety and atmosphere is the biggest issue that has presented itself at Playland over the last 2 decades. If westchester pays for this, then westchester residents should be the primary reason for the parks existence. If it was cleaner and safer people from the north would visit with their family's and spend a great deal more money than the busses of people who come in to walk around, rather than spend at the venues. If more marketing efforts were made into CT and Northern NY I think it would be beneficial for everyone. I have met people from 25 miles away into CT who have never heard of the park. Hopefully somoene will see this and take note. Only my suggestions and not to offend anyone. The Boroughs should also be able to enjoy the park and I am in no way speaking down in this regard but please understand there is a certain type of environment that was created with fighting, crime and defacing of the historic park that needs to be curbed if it is to be successful.
Billy L October 16, 2012 at 05:47 PM
The park could use new rides and a historically accurate restoration, which is what my group has called for all along, which was part of the plan put forward by Central Amusements. My main beef with Sustainable Playland is that they want to make it more a park first, amusements are secondary. Myself and my group believes the park should be leased from the county and kept a full amusement park and run as a business, with no regards for who uses the park. I agree county residents should have priority if the county is paying. We need to get the county out of having to pay, and just have it run privately as a business.
Robert - Rye October 16, 2012 at 06:20 PM
I think for financial reasons I agree with you.. However having it be such a large part of our community in Rye and Westchester along with teh historic value as soon as you privatize the space it leaves room for it to go in any direction. My only concern would be that it would loose sight of its surroundings and could become something it was never intended to be in the middle of a small community(rye) that is highly preserved. I think having it mainly as a park is pointless as no one in Rye or surrounding areas will utilize this space as they have their own private parks for this purpose. Green space is nice however it will not attract the people that will bring income to the park. It will only bring people who will BBQ and throw big party's bringing their own food and tailgates... It is not what would work for teh community either. I hope that it has something that will benefit everyone from a boardwalk that has restaurants/bars/ nightlife similar to what will be done in South Norwalk.
Billy L October 16, 2012 at 06:32 PM
I encourage you to look at our group 'Save Rye Playland' on Facebook. Open green space is currently there. There are outdoor grills, picnic grounds and grottos and plenty of open space in Rye town park to do those activities. What needs to happen first and foremost is we need to GO BACK to the park's history, which is what Central Amusements proposed by rebuilding the original colonnades. One item that NONE of the plans included that I felt needed to be present is rebuilding the Airplane Coaster. If you have not heard of it, it was directly opposite the Dragon Coaster and from the air the two coasters were almost symmetrical but the Airplane was much larger and more intense. The Dragon Coaster was built for Playland's second season as a milder counterpart to the Airplane, which was torn down in 1957. The park still has the blueprints. I feel rebuilding this ride is necessary because it is part of the park's original design intent and brings a ride that packs a thrill level the park lacks. We all love the Dragon Coaster but it is mild as far as coasters go. Playland loses the late teen demographic and putting such a ride back in it's place will draw more crowds. Couple that with an effort to rehab the admin building, and rebuilding the original gates and colonnades to bring the park back would generate renewed interest in it. It think its crucial we dont shrink the footprint of the amusement area. I would love to see more water rides, or maybe a separate water slide facility.
Billy L October 16, 2012 at 06:38 PM
http://a3.ec-images.myspacecdn.com/images02/99/9d86798fd6c048da9be3048593cc4ff1/l.jpg If you look closely you can see the Old Mill and part of the Dragon coaster in the top of that picture. This, I believe, is key to putting this park back on the map and it would not compromise the National Historic Landmark status of the park being it's part of the park's original design. A separate master plan commissioned by the county in 2004 from a private company on ways to improve the park also called for this ride to be rebuilt. The park is in poor condition in some areas. The colonnades, what's left of that are barely recognizable from their original form and the administration building is dilapidated. they have done great work in restoring the boathouse and music tower but more is needed. Sustainable Playland's plans would result in attendance being driven in half of where it is now, when falling attendance was the primary reason for trying to reinvigorate the park. I also would like to see a separate water facility with maybe 6 water slides emptying into a pool with a lazy river running underneath, where you would buy a 2 hour bracelet for this water attraction, similar to what is on Long Beach Island, NJ at the Thundering Surf Water Park.
George in NY October 17, 2012 at 12:16 PM
You know just recalling past days, not Playland per say but the other end of the beach area, Oakland Beach and Rye Town Beach. Oakland pool, Steinbergs, the custard stand and the Beachcomer bar. The luncheonette at the end of the loop. The snack bar and duck pond. As a child, later a teen, I loved going to the pool, having a pistachio cone, a burger and fries. My children never enjoyed any of that. All they could do was go to the duck pond. WHY, because the majority of all that became a condominium. Someone is always looking to make a buck or advance an agenda! Whatever plan is adopted the citizens should always cast a wary eye in the direction of the politics and the finance!!!
wj January 14, 2013 at 04:47 AM
I hope that the County does not hold up the repairs to the Ice Casino. Our hockey team, the Westchester Mariners youth hockey, has to play and practice at rinks in Norwalk, and Greenwich, as well as Mamaroneck and Tarrytown. The sooner the repairs are done they better. Youth sports should not become a political orphan.

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