Rye Playland, despite hard work ahead, will be ready by opening day May 11, officials say

Construction workers repair the boardwalk at Playland in

Construction workers repair the boardwalk at Playland in Rye. (May 1, 2013)

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Rye Playland is preparing for a new summer season with the smell of fresh paint, the soft touch of a salty sea breeze and the ever-hopeful, ever-promising sound of jackhammers.

Around 80 workers are now working furiously to ready the 280-acre amusement park on Long Island Sound for opening day on May 11.

They're replacing the demolished boardwalk with more durable Brazilian wood, repairing roofs and laying down new blacktop along the colonnades of the 1920s-era park, all part of fixing the $13 million worth of damage wrought last year by superstorm Sandy.

Although the park still shows signs of its age -- peeling stucco, water stains, cracked walkways -- and some signs of Sandy remain, like the bent wrought-iron fence facing a beach, its overall condition now bears little resemblance to the beaten-up, dirty wreck that the storm left six months ago year.

During a tour Wednesday, Westchester County Deputy Parks Commissioner Peter Tartaglia said the beloved but aging amusement park would be ready. Although not without some hard work in the next 10 days.

"Every minute of the day counts," Tartaglia said.

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Tartaglia and the workers also are thinking about next year. The repairs, after all, must be compatible with Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino's plan to hand over management of the county-owned park to a Rye nonprofit organization, Sustainable Playland, at the end of the current season in October.

Astorino was planning the transition before Sandy struck, saying private investment will be required to make the facility profitable and turn around a downward trend in attendance.

Now the Republican county executive needs to make sure the park is in good condition if and when the nonprofit and its subcontractors embark on the $35 million in refurbishments they've planned for the site.

The county Board of Acquisition and Contract approved the deal April 18. A spokesman for Sustainable Playland, Geoff Thompson, said the nonprofit organization expected to sign a management agreement with the county in the coming days.

Under the agreement, within a month after it signs it, Sustainable Playland must submit an improvement plan that would renovate the park, including eliminating some nonhistoric rides; clearing a large space that will become a Great Lawn, modeled after the same site in Manhattan's Central Park; and bringing in new restaurants on the model of Bryant Park, on 42nd Street in Manhattan.

"It's going to be far more than an amusement park," Thompson said. "But the amusement park has been and will remain the main component. I know this is a concern. Some of it is nostalgia. A lot of people recognize that this place is one of the most continually operating amusement parks in America."


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Board of Legislators chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) has said he would file a lawsuit to stop Astorino from following through with the agreement, but he has yet to take action. Jenkins claims the agreement needs the support of lawmakers. Astorino claims he has the right to sign a management agreement and that lawmakers have authority only in regard to major changes at the park.

As politicians posture, parks workers toil.

No matter how fast the repair crews work, some of the damage done by Sandy won't be fixed for months, Tartaglia said.

The Ice Casino roof, for example, is an Art Deco-style structure that needs custom-manufactured replacement pieces. The project probably won't be done until next year, at a cost of nearly $5 million.

"This is not your Home Depot roof," Tartaglia said.

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Another uncertainty has to do with damage to the north boardwalk, which has been ruined three times by storms since 1992. The county wants to have a seaside walk, he said, but has concluded any replacement should be sturdier than a wooden structure.

As to the traditional rides, the Dragon Coaster will be ready to roar.

The owner of the Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar, John Ambrose -- still busy supervising repair work on Tuesday -- said he was surprised by the progress everyone was making, given the scale of Sandy's damage.

"When this project started, I was a little frightened that the timetable from the county executive and Westchester Parks and Recreation frankly wasn't going to happen," he said.

Now, Ambrose said, he's happy to tell local residents who regularly drop by the park that Playland should be open for business and accessible in less than two weeks.

"All the walkers out here, they want to climb over the fence," he said. "They're running laps in the parking lot."

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