Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino signed a letter of intent with non-profit organization Sustainable Playland this afternoon, but the marching band, balloon release and ceremony that ensued to celebrate the revitalization of Playland park may have been premature, according to some county Board of Legislators members.
Two Democratic legislators who attended the press conference say they just heard about the proposed management agreement the morning of the announcement and have some concerns about the its longterm viability.
“Today, the Board of Legislators, as well as residents, got a general overview of a plan for Playland,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins, D-Yonkers. “What must follow is a delivery of the proposal and all of its details to the Board for our review. It’s the Board of Legislators that will ultimately decide to approve any agreement after public discussion and public input.”
Essentially, the “letter of intent,” agrees that the county will turn management of the 100-acre amusement park to Sustainable Playland Inc. With $34 million from investors, the group would pay the county $4 million up front, a base minimum of $1.2 million each year (beginning in 2014), and eventually more depending on profitability.
Sustainable Playland's payments will go toward the county’s $32 million debt on Playland. According to Astorino, the plan will save the county $18 million in interest and principal payments over the remaining 12-year life of the bonds.
“I am concerned that the county still has liability for the debt,” Legislator Catherine Borgia said.
The $4 million is a one-time payment and there were no specifics provided on how much more than the minimum $1.2 million the county will get if Sustainable Playland is profitable, or what happens if it is not. The county pays $3.6 million in debt service each year, according to Astorino. So, after the first year, Borgia and Ryan ask, where will the rest of the money come from?
“I love Playland. It is beautiful. I want to see it succeed,” said Borgia about her hopes that the county finds a viable plan. “And I am in favor of public-private partnerships,” she said of the SPI plan. But Borgia said she needs more information.
“I am looking for detailed financials,” she said, adding that she also wants to see a marketing plan to consider the sustainability of Sustainable Playland’s program.
When the county decided to consider new ideas for Playland in 2010, a 19-member Citizens Advisory Committee was formed, which included three members of the Board of Legislators, Bill Ryan, Judy Myers and Republican Sheila Marcotte, and business, civic, church and student representatives. Sustainable Playland was among the Citizens Committee’s top ranked recommendations, along with Standard Amusements and Central Amusements International.
However, Ryan said that he has not been involved in the decision-making process since those were selected as the top choices last year.
“The plan appears to address some of the major financial and operational issues that this county government has been wrestling with for more than a decade,” said Legislator Ryan. “But a decision of this magnitude regarding one of the County’s most important properties must be made jointly by the executive and Legislature.”
Astornio responded to the legislators’ concerns by saying that the county will have continuous oversight of the park.
“If the Board of Legislators wants to throw red tape at this, it only hastens the drain on the taxpayers,” Astorino said, emphasizing that bureaucracy should be “taken out of this,” and the county should “let the professionals handle it.”
“We are still trying to figure out what it all means,” said Board of Legislators press secretary Thomas Staudter.