Rob Astorino to unveil terms of Rye Playland deal

Eric DeGraw, center, of Playland Sports, a unit

Eric DeGraw, center, of Playland Sports, a unit of Sustainable Playland, explains the nonprofit organization's plan for the county-owned amusement park in Rye. (Feb. 13, 2013) (Credit: John Dyer)

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino thursday is expected to unveil his long-awaited contract with the nonprofit organization he has designated to manage Rye Playland, the beloved but aging county-owned amusement park that has been operating in the red for years.

Astorino is expected to appear with Rye-based Sustainable Playland at the county offices in White Plains at 11:30 a.m. to “detail terms” of the asset management agreement he has negotiated with the group.

Astorino administration officials declined to provide details of the agreement before the press event. Sustainable Playland representatives didn't immediately respond to calls for comment.


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But they said the Republican county executive wouldn't be signing an agreement. Rather, he would only be revealing aspects of the deal.

Making the contract public would be a milestone in a controversial vetting process Astorino began more than two years ago to bring new investment and management to the amusement park.

Sustainable Playland has proposed investing $34 million into the facility on Long Island Sound. The group would give the county $4 million immediately upon taking control of the operation and pay around $1.2 million a year in rent to the county for a decade.

The county's Board of Acquisition and Contract would need to approve the agreement. Astorino controls two of the three seats on the board, making its acceptance a near certainty.

REMAINING HURDLES

But once the deal is sealed, the nonprofit organization still faces hurdles.

Sustainable Playland initially hoped to run the park this summer. But Astorino and Sustainable Playland encountered numerous obstacles since they first announced their plans in October last year that pushed that date back.

Members of the Board of Legislators have criticized Astorino for claiming the authority to reach an agreement with an outside contractor to take over a major county asset like Playland.

Last year, Democrats on the board even approved a lease with the Westchester Children's Museum to move into the North Bathhouse on the site, effectively setting up a competing vision for the new park. Astorino has questioned whether the lease is legal.

Those tensions between Astorino and county lawmakers could cause further delays.

Sustainable Playland intends to serve as an umbrella organization that will subcontract operations of distinct areas of the park to other vendors. A skating rink company would run the Ice Casino, and an amusement company would oversee the Dragon Coaster and other rides, for example. Most of those vendors want to make significant changes to the park, including erecting new buildings and moving rides.

But in February, county Attorney Robert Meehan issued a legal opinion saying that legislators would need to approve major construction and other structural changes.

The nonprofit's officers have said they would like to present a plan containing all of the changes to the board for an up-or-down vote that would allow for their proposed alterations, including clearing a "great lawn" in the middle of the amusement park that would be suitable for concerts and other events.

In an interview last week, Astorino's communications director, Ned McCormack, said the county executive would work diligently with legislators for the best of the park and county taxpayers.

"The board has a role to play, as does the county executive," McCormack said. "They are complementary roles but the job of the county executive is to do what he did. The status quo of Playland is untenable and unacceptable. The park is losing $3 million to $5 million a year."

Repairs left over from superstorm Sandy also have yet to be completed in Playland.

A few weeks after the county executive and the nonprofit aired their plans, Sandy walloped Playland, causing $12 million in damages. The federal and state governments are due to compensate Westchester County for the cost of the restoration.

This summer, the county is expected to continue operating the park as crews continue to fix Sandy-related damage. Although the park's boardwalk is slated to be restored by opening day on May 11, the Ice Casino isn't likely to be open for hockey and skating until mid-2014.

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