Sustainable Playland, Inc., a Rye-based non-profit organization, was chosen to lead the way for the “reinvention of Playland for the 21st century”. County Executive Rob Astorino announced the decision October 11 at a press conference at the historic amusement park.
By Melanie Cane
Sustainable Playland, Inc., a Rye-based non-profit organization, was chosen to lead the way for the “reinvention of Playland for the 21st century”. County Executive Rob Astorino announced the decision October 11 at a press conference at the historic amusement park. After a lengthy review process by a 19-member Citizens Advisory Committee, that included three legislators, Sustainable came up the winner.
The County Executive said Sustainable was selected because it had “the best vision for the park financially and operationally, as well as far-reaching experience and strong local ties.”
While 12 proposals were submitted to the County in 2011, only three had true viability, said Astorino, who signed a letter of intent for a ten-year lease with the Rye non-profit.
The intent of the private/public partnership is to develop an asset management agreement giving Sustainable a lease of all 100 acres of Playland Amusement Park, which opened in 1928. In return, Sustainable will commit to making an initial investment of $34 million in capital improvements to the existing park.
About 70 percent of the rides will remain, including historic favorites like the Dragon Coaster. New attractions include ball fields, a field house, an outdoor skating rink, a Great Lawn, an “aqua zone” over the old swimming pool, an indoor multi-use facility and restaurants and cafés. The indoor rink will also be expanded.
“It is a daunting project, but there is so much excitement and overwhelming community support,” said Dhruv Narain, President of Sustainable Playland, after the announcement. “Our goal is to transform the park into a year-round destination for everyone.”
SPI’s theme is “More Park, More Play.” General admission will be free, as will entrance to the new Great Lawn modeled after Bryant Park and Central Park. Park attractions will be grouped into a variety of zones — amusement, water, beach, and fields — and separate fees will be charged for different zoned activities.
Already on board are an operator for the amusement park and water deck, which will cover the old swimming pool; the ball fields; and the indoor and new outdoor ice rink. Dan Biederman, who helped “reinvent” Manhattan’s Bryant Park, will run “the Great Lawn” at the Rye park. His firm, Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, will oversee the overall operation of the park.
“We’ve been encouraged by the response from restaurateurs like Danny Meyer and area corporations,” added Narain. “We’re in negotiations with a number of people to open restaurants and cafés. We’re looking for licensing agreements, with the goal of enlivening the park, bringing jobs to Westchester, and having a robust financial future.”
If the Sustainable group can get contracts signed in the next few months, they are shooting to assume operation of the amusement park and open the new ball fields next spring and the field house next fall. Whatever transpires in the next few months, Playland will open for its 85th season in May.
The proposed 10-year management agreement includes an initial $4 million payment up front from Sustainable to the County, as well as a minimum $1.2 million a year. Astorino said the money will go toward “retiring the County’s existing $32 million debt on Playland and it will save the County $18 million in interest and principal payments over the 12-year life of the bonds.”
Narain told the paper that $26 million of the $34 million total would come from the various operators. “We’ll finance the remaining $8 million by issuing tax-exempt bonds, the same way the Jacob Burns Film Center and Arts Westchester were funded.”
For Rye, the decision is the best of all possible worlds — a bigger and better park right in our backyard. For the County Executive, it’s the realization of a goal he set before being elected in 2009. “Saving Playland has been a priority for me since the day I took office,” he said.
The County Executive said he hopes a contract can be signed in three months’ time.
Additional reporting by Robin Jovanovich