Job seekers wait in line for hours to land summer work at Rye Playland

Hundreds of job applicants, mostly younger people, began Hundreds of job applicants, mostly younger people, began lining up at 7 a.m. in front of the Westchester County Center in White Plains for a chance at a 9 a.m. interview for a Playland summer job. (March 9, 2013) Photo Credit: Betty Ming Liu

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While changes are afoot for the management of Rye Playland, tradition ruled on Saturday as hundreds of mostly youthful job seekers lined up for hours in hopes of landing summer employment at Westchester's historic county amusement park.

As in years past, Playland officials held a round of March interviews which attracted teens from throughout the area to Westchester County Center in White Plains. By the time 16-year-old Tianna Livingston arrived from Yonkers with her mom and baby brother for the 9 a.m. event, they were surprised to see so many other hopefuls, some of whom began queuing up as early as 7 a.m.

But the line moved quickly and an hour later, the Early College High School sophomore emerged from her first job hunting experience with a big smile. "I feel accomplished. I think I got the job," she said, adding that she wasn't expecting the questions and paperwork.

Her mother Latitia Stallings, 35, said Playland's annual hiring is an important local ritual. "I've had relatives work at Playland in the past and so I know it's a good opportunity for her to learn how to be responsible and appreciate how money comes about."

SPRING RITUAL

From opening day on May 11 to the end of September, nearly 1,000 young employees will be put on the Playland payroll for duties ranging from running Playland's 50 rides and taking tickets to maintaining the grounds, making the 85-year-old, 280-acre amusement park the largest government-run outlet for youth hiring in Westchester, said Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner for Westchester County Parks.

Most of the workforce is 18 to 20 years old and will earn $7.70 to $10 an hour, depending on their skills.

Still unknown is whether the job fair will continue in 2014. County politicians are in the midst of wrangling over hiring on another level -- the hiring of an operator for the money-losing, family entertainment destination. County Democrats have taken issue with Republican County Executive Rob Astorino's decision to bring in the nonprofit group Sustainable Playland to freshen up the park and are talking to other potential operators.

The park, which was $3 million in the red in 2012, is struggling due to rising labor costs, $30 million in debt obligations for capital projects and a drop in attendance, which in 2012 was 430,000 -- down from 1 million in 2005, according to county officials.

Astorino said he is optimistic about moving forward with his plans.

"We're wrapping up the management agreement and hoping to have that finalized and sent to the board of acquisition and contracts soon," he told Newsday during the youth job fair. "Then, we'll start the transition."

Sustainable Playland's vision calls for opening up the northern edge of the park that overlooks the Long Island Sound by turning it into a Cental Park-style Great Lawn, a move that would uproot about 10 amusement rides in that area and either shuttering or relocating them. The organization also wants to build a recreation facility with indoor and outdoor athletic fields.

The nation's only Art Deco-designed amusement park is making $12 million in superstorm Sandy-related emergency repairs on the main boardwalk and the custom dome roof of the Ice Casino rink, which is shaped like a house of playing cards.

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