McKinstry: Things set to get swinging at Playland
The gates at Playland Amusement Park in Rye are coming down. Those repellent entrance fees are going away.
And Westchester County is getting a "great lawn" of its own, one with waterfront views.
Playland is about to get a long overdue makeover -- and to hear Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino tell it, it's not going to cost taxpayers a dime. In fact, the "memory maker" may even shed its reputation as a money-loser.
Astorino on Thursday inked a deal with Sustainable Playland, a Rye-based not-for-profit made up of some of Westchester's - and arguably the country's -- leading minds in the areas of amusement parks, sports, restaurant and finance, to run the place.
The management change is part of Astorino's vision to "reinvent" the country's only government-run amusement park. After years of study and 12 different proposals, the administration opted for what Astorino is calling a "civic-commercial partnership" to save the park, which has been hemorrhaging cash and visitors for years.
Sustainable Playland's goal is to bring the 280-acre National Historic Landmark, which was built in 1928, "back to its place of prominence," said Dhruv Narain, a Rye resident who is president of the group and an executive at Goldman Sachs. "This is going to be a first-class amusement park."
It will still be family-centric, and that's a good thing for people in this region.
The best plan really did win.
Modeled after the Central Park Conservancy, this type of partnership has proved to be successful across the country.
Members of Sustainable Playland have done this sort of work with Bryant Park, Grand Central terminal, Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, Universal Studios City Walk in Hollywood, Ice Skating Galleria in Houston and other places.
Closer to home, the company overseeing this new partnership is Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, which is headed by Dan Biederman of Chappaqua. He has helped turn around Bryant Park in Manhattan and his company manages the Grand Central Partnership and 34th Street Partnership.
As part of the deal with Westchester County, the group is going to invest $34 million in the park and broaden its appeal with new features, while not losing historic rides like the Dragon Coaster and Derby Racer or popular attractions like Kiddyland.
The plan is to add features like a water park overlooking the boardwalk; outdoor ballfields and an indoor field house; more restaurants; a renovated Ice Casino and a new outdoor skating rink; and a great lawn, with views of Long Island Sound, for concerts and events.
The group is going to put up $4 million up front, pay a $1.2 million fee and chip away at $18 million in park debt, as part of the agreement.
"We're not putting money into this, they are," Astorino said. "Clearly, they're going to be in this to win it."
As a bonus, there will be no entrance fee and riders will pay as they go. That means some of the fortresslike fencing that prevented people from entering this public park are going away, too.
What makes this plan work financially is that Playland is going to be open year-round. That's the game-changer -- 12 months of business (excluding the rides, which will be closed during the winter), instead of 90 days.
Now, the Board of Legislators is going to give it a look. They should give it the thorough, but fair, airing the deal deserves.
There's a lot riding on it.
Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.