Thruway Field Bill Approval Is Good News for Rye
Governor Cuomo’s approval of legislation to protect Rye public use of the Thruway Property and allow purchase by Rye Country Day School is a big win for Rye youth sports groups, including Rye Youth Soccer, Rye Youth Lacrosse, Rye Recreation, and the Rye Rangers Hockey Club as well as the school.
The school estimates raising $30 million to acquire the property and build recreational facilities to be shared with public groups as guaranteed by the state legislation. There will be no financial contribution from the City of Rye.
The signing of the legislation culminates a community effort to secure this valuable state property for recreation that goes back to the late 1980s. Rye has long opposed commercial and other incompatible uses on the site for over 30 years.
In 2015 the Thruway Authority announced its intention to put the parcel up for sale at auction to the highest bidder. I immediately made the case to the Thruway Authority and the Governor’s office that the parcel should not be put up for auction, but instead should be sold to the community for recreational use. They agreed and have worked with the community and me to make such a sale for recreation possible.
The original 2015 plan for City of Rye acquisition ended in 2016 when the city indicated that it could not afford to purchase the parcel and requested that I find a method for sale to Rye Country Day School with use to be shared with the public. In 2017 I passed legislation that allowed sale of the property to the school and tasked the city and the school to agree to a use plan delineating a schedule of school and public use times.
Without the new state legislation passed this year, this opportunity for Rye recreation would have been lost. The actual shared use schedule, the split between the school and public user groups, was settled in 2018. Agreement on a written document, however, proved elusive, as the City Council sought additional provisions seeking joint ownership-like control over the parcel that were beyond the scope of the 2017 authorizing legislation.
It was impossible for the school to legally agree to the demands because they diluted the fiduciary, insurance, liability, and management responsibilities that come with ownership of property. Unfortunately, the mayor and some members of the City Council misstated to the Rye community what was actually in dispute between the school and the Council.
During the course of talks, the school was faced with a City Council that repeatedly inserted new demands, even as late as the end of October 2019. The school was prepared to seek recreation space outside of Rye, leaving the community unable to afford the acquisition and development costs of the Thruway parcel. Discussion between the school and the Council has gone on for 22 months.
Rather than terminating or undermining negotiations, the legislation allowed talks to continue, and they did until the end of October. In fact, after the legislation was passed, the school, not the city, made concessions on major issues to try and win cooperation on an agreement with the Council.
Early this year I called the mayor to share that I had heard that the school and others had questioned whether the City Council actually intended to come to an agreement. The failed negotiations of August, September, and October demonstrated that the backup legislation was needed.
At the end of the day, the good news is that there will be new athletic facilities for the entire community. The tremendous support of Governor Cuomo and the Thruway Authority make this victory for recreation in Rye possible. In an extraordinary show of support, they worked with us and held the property in place for over four years. The new legislation, now approved by the Governor, saves the property for Rye.
- Steve Otis,