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Astorino: Children's museum deal needs board OK

Westchester Children's Museum Board President Ira Greenstein and

Westchester Children's Museum Board President Ira Greenstein and Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins sign a lease agreement Thursday to house the museum at the former men's bathhouse at Rye Playland. Looking on from left are: Tracy Kay, executive director of the children's museum; Legis. Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining); Legis. Bill Ryan (D-White Plains); Campaign for the Westchester Children's Museum Board President Corinne Zola; Legis. Judy Myers (D-Larchmont); and county Majority Leader Pete Harckham (D-Katonah). (Oct. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Westchester Board of Legislators/Thomas Staudter

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and fellow Republicans are firing shots across the bow of a pair of legislators who inked a lease Thursday with the proposed Westchester Children's Museum to give it a home at a historic bathhouse at Rye's Playland Amusement Park.

County Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) and Legis. Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), chairwoman of the budget and appropriations committee, signed the 10-year lease in a ceremony at the Michaelian Office Building in White Plains.

But a spokesman for Astorino, who controls the county Board of Acquisition and Contract, said the two don't have the authority to approve the deal.

"Leases of this duration are contracts and must be approved by both the Board of Legislators and the Board of Acquisition and Contract before they can take effect," Ned McCormack said.

Leaders of the Democrat-dominated Board of Legislators maintain no approval is required.

"The Board of Legislators can execute what the Board of Legislators can pass," Jenkins said. "The Board of Acquisition and Contract on this matter has zero (responsibility)."

Museum board member Marc Oxman said he and his colleagues intended to proceed with construction at the former men's bathhouse on the Playland boardwalk, as outlined in the lease.

"The county of Westchester has given us a lease," Oxman said. "As far as we're concerned, that's solid. If they have problems internally, that's something for them to work out."

But after the lease signing, the Board of Legislators' Republican minority leader, Jim Maisano (R-New Rochelle), held an impromptu news conference in his office and handed out a copy of the enabling legislation the board passed to grant the museum the lease. He interpreted the legislation to say only the county executive could ink a deal with the museum.

"What he just did is illegal," said Maisano, referring to Jenkins. "It's not a close call as a matter of law."

In 2011, Astorino vetoed a $1-a-year Playland lease plan for the museum. Though lawmakers overrode that veto, the plan never came to fruition.

Under the terms of the lease, the children's museum will occupy about half, or about 21,390 square feet, of the former bathhouse and will spend $6,441,300 in interior and exterior renovations in exchange for the $1 yearly rent, Democratic caucus spokesman Thomas Staudter said in a statement. No property tax dollars will be spent on rehabilitating the facility's interior, he said.

The museum also plans to spend another $7 million for a wide range of exhibits.

The bathhouse was built in 1928, but use of its north and south wings has been discontinued for many years because of decreased demand, Staudter said.

The lease agreement stipulates that the museum has two years to open, or the lease is nullified.

Earlier this month, Astorino unveiled a plan to reverse the sagging fortunes of Playland by turning management over to a business group that will invest $34 million in capital improvements and make annual payment of $1.2 million to the county in addition to a $4 million upfront fee.

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