Westchester Dems revive Rye Playland museum plan

Douglas McKean of the organization Sustainable Playland with

Douglas McKean of the organization Sustainable Playland with a map of the existing amusement park, which is owned by Westchester County (May 18, 2012) (Credit: Newsday Photo/Gerald McKinstry)

Democrats on the Westchester County Legislature have resurrected a proposal, vetoed last year by county executive Rob Astorino, to convert the historic bathhouse at Rye's Playland Amusement Park into a children's museum.

Last week, county lawmakers voted unanimously to send Astorino a proposed 10-year lease with the Westchester Children's Museum for his consideration, a nearly identical plan to one the Republican leader rejected last August.

Under the terms of the lease, the museum would occupy about half, or about 21,390 square feet, of the former men's bathhouse on the Playland boardwalk and spend $6.4 million on renovations in exchange for a yearly rent of one dollar. The museum also plans to spend an additional $7 million for a wide range of exhibits, according to lawmakers.

"The Westchester Children's Museum stands as a superb example of the visionary public-private partnerships that can help shrink government spending," said Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers), chairman of the county Legislature and the one pushing the plan.

Astorino said before his veto that he supported the concept but wasn't convinced that the proposal was in the best interests of taxpayers. Democratic lawmakers overrode his veto, but the plan expired at the end of the year because of inaction.

Ned McCormack, Astorino's spokesman, said the county executive still isn't sold on the plan.

"We need them to show us that the museum can be financially viable," he told Newsday. "To date, they haven't done that."

McCormack said it was too soon to make a decision about the children's museum because Playland's renovation plans are still being reviewed. He said the next step for the lease proposal is a review by the county's Board of Contracts and Acquisitions.

Westchester County officials are currently reviewing three proposals -- narrowed from a list of 12 contenders last year by a citizens committee -- to renovate 100 acres of the sprawling, 280-acre entertainment venue off Long Island Sound.

Playland is bleeding money at a rate of nearly $5 million a year because of rising labor costs, debt obligations and a drop in attendance, estimated at 80,000 patrons in the past year alone. The county owes $30 million on debt service for capital projects in the park, which will cost taxpayers about $3 million this year.

Astorino has pledged to come up with a better business model for the park but hasn't made a decision on which proposal, if any, he will support. The final three citizens committee recommendations included proposals for renovating the park and adding new amenities that the county is considering, or a hybrid proposal that incorporated numerous ideas.

The proposed museum would have water-play and hands-on, interactive exhibits geared toward science, arts and culture, as well as a state-of-the-art climbing structure and other attractions, organizers have said.

"The reuse of a portion of the Playland bathhouse as a children's museum is consistent with the family-oriented concept and mission of Playland," said Legis. Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), chairwoman of the Legislature's Budget & Appropriations Committee. "Having the museum open even in the months when the amusement park at Playland is closed will bring visitors out through the rest of the year."

Tracy Kay, executive director of Westchester Children's Museum, couldn't be reached for comment Sunday.

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