Playland ice rink lost for the year, a $1.6M blow to county

The Rye Playland game room and ice rink. The Rye Playland game room and ice rink. (March 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

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The Ice Casino at Rye Playland suffered such heavy damage from superstorm Sandy that it will remain closed into next year, costing the county $1.6 million in revenue, Westchester County officials said Monday.

Although most of the amusement park will reopen May 11, several areas will remain closed while undergoing repairs, county officials said.

Repair work on the main boardwalk is just beginning, and it will be closed temporarily, officials said. The North Boardwalk and Seaside Walk will remain closed indefinitely.

Severe damage to the roof of the Ice Casino will require special engineering expertise, said Ned McCormack, a spokesman for Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.

"It's a very complicated construction job, and safety is paramount," McCormack said. "We've been reaching out to the people who would be affected by this to let them know."

The loss of the rink will cost the county $1.6 million in revenue for the season, McCormack said, adding that it should reopen next year.

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News that the rink will be closed all year brought criticism from county legislators Monday. Board of Legislators chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) said the loss would be a blow to school athletic teams who use it.

"It's unconscionable that they wouldn't be opening the Ice Casino for the fall," Jenkins said. "They told us the repairs would be done on time, and now these schools and other groups that use the rink will have to find alternatives."

Superstorm Sandy caused more than $12 million worth of damage to Playland. The federal government is likely to compensate the county for those costs.

In January, county legislators approved two emergency bonds: one for $7.6 million that will go toward repairing Playland's boardwalk, which was damaged by high winds and a storm surge; and a second for $4.9 million, that will fund repairs to the roof, boilers and structure at the Ice Casino.

Legis. Bill Ryan (D-White Plains) said he and other Democrats on the board have been getting the "runaround" from county officials for several weeks regarding repairs.

"We need concrete answers," Ryan said. "A lot of people want to know if the ice rink will be open this fall."

Ryan spoke before McCormack disclosed the severity of the problems at the rink.

The status of repair work at Playland will be the subject of a meeting of county legislators at the County Center in White Plains on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

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County officials said Monday that all park rides will be running May 11. The Ice Casino is a year-round attraction.

Astorino is expected to sign an agreement with Rye-based Sustainable Playland next month, turning over management of the county-owned park. Chosen in October after a lengthy competitive bidding process, the nonprofit company has pledged to assemble a handful of subcontractors -- including ride operators, restaurant owners and others -- who would invest $34 million in the park.

The group would pay the county an up-front $4 million fee and rental payments of $1.2 million a year for a decade.

Democrats are chaffing over Astorino's claim that he can sign the agreement with Sustainable Playland without legislative approval, using the same authority to grant a concession to a vendor who would operate a county golf course.

Last month, County attorney Robert Meehan issued a legal opinion that states the Board of Legislators -- controlled by Democrats -- can reject portions of the agreement that call for major changes at the park. The Legislature has the authority to approve or reject major changes to facilities, according to Meehan.

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At a legislative meeting Monday, lawmakers peppered Meehan with questions about his legal opinion, mostly over what kinds of changes would require legislative approval. Some legislators suggested that wrangling over the plan could result in litigation.

Meehan reiterated Monday that Astorino can go ahead with an agreement only as long as the deal does not allow Sustainable Playland to make "substantial changes" to the property.

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