Editorial: Officials should all support Playland proposal

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Sustainable Playland Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Sustainable Playland Inc. president Druv Narain shake hands after signing a letter of intent on a $34 million plan to redevelop Playland at a press conference in Rye. (Oct. 11, 2012) Photo Credit: Angela Gaul

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Few people could argue against the only government-run amusement park in the country -- one that has been losing money and visitors every year -- needing a makeover. But this is Westchester County, and what happens to Playland Amusement Park in Rye -- or better said, the credit for the makeover -- will be a factor in next year's local elections.

So right on cue, the Westchester County Board of Legislators said a plan to reinvent the historic waterfront park was short on specifics and that the process longed for sunlight.

In fact, given the tense history between Democrats on the board and Republican County Executive Rob Astorino, you don't need some fortuneteller on the boardwalk to predict that twists and turns were a given: the authority and roles of each branch are common battle themes.

But while the county board has to play a role in creating a new amusement park, Playland shouldn't be a run-of-the-mill political roller coaster. It is, and will remain, 280 acres of the county's most prized parkland, a majestic place overlooking Long Island Sound.

If the concept proposed by the developer, Sustainable Playland Inc., is executed correctly, the park will add a great lawn, small water park, outdoor ice rink, new rides, and year-round attractions like a field house and sports fields.

The site could, as Sustainable Playland's director put it, return "to its place of prominence" and be a "first-class amusement park."

That's why neither branch of county government can go it alone. All of the parties, Democrats, Republicans and not-for-profit Sustainable Playland, must recognize this and work together if this reinvention is ever going to go smoothly. The quality of this public-private partnership made up of community members all across Westchester could even bridge differences.

As part of its proposal, Sustainable Playland will invest $34 million in capital improvements, pay an upfront fee of $4 million and make annual payments of $1.2 million to the county. Money would also go to pay down millions in park debt. As a bonus to the public, the fortress-like fences would come down and the entrance fees would go away, benefits that would cross party lines.

Though Astorino maintains that the board has been involved and that this contract merely has to go before the three-member Board of Acquisition and Contracts, for which he controls two of the three votes, Democratic county legislators maintain it's a lease and subject to their approval.

These potentially divisive arguments shouldn't get in the way of -- or, dare we say, kill -- this visionary proposal. Nor should election-year politics (the county executive and 17 members of the legislature are up for re-election in 2013).

Sustainable Playland was chosen by the Astorino administration over 12 other proposals because it's a good concept.

Now it's up to these parties to make sure it works for the public.

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