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Astorino to make 'major announcement' about Playland

The amusement park at Rye's Playland is closed

The amusement park at Rye's Playland is closed for the season, as seen here, but some events take place throughout the year at the Westchester County-owned park. (Oct. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

After more than a year of reviewing proposals for Playland Amusement Park, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is expected Thursday to unveil the county's long-term plans for the historic entertainment venue.

Astorino has scheduled a news conference at 11 a.m. at Playland's Ice Casino to make a "major announcement" about the future of the park. A spokeswoman for the county declined to provide details of the announcement.

County officials have been considering three proposals, narrowed from a citizen committee's list of 12 contenders, to renovate 100 acres of the sprawling, 280-acre property off Long Island Sound.

Astorino, who is grappling with recurring budget deficits, 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.

Among the proposals:

• Sustainable Playland, a Rye-based coalition of business and property owners, would invest $35 million to restore the park by partnering with restaurant owners, ride operators and others willing to invest in renovations.

• Central Amusements, a New Jersey-based company that operates attractions on Coney Island in Brooklyn, would invest $750,000 in capital projects and add new attractions and rides, including a 4-D movie theater.

• Standard Amusements, a New York City-based company and former operator of Cedar Fair Entertainment, would provide a $5 million upfront payment and spend millions for infrastructure improvements.

The county has said it is also considering possible hybrid proposals that would incorporate a combination of committee ideas.

Playland, which opened in 1928, 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 to have declined by 80,000 in the past year alone. The county owes $30 million in debt service for capital projects in the park, which will cost taxpayers about $3 million this year.

Numbers released by the county in late July show year-to-year revenue down about a half-million dollars from 2011. Attendance is also down. As of July 15, the park had 194,000 visitors this year, compared with 206,000 in 2011, according to figures the county released. Final year-end revenue and attendence figures haven't been released.

Astorino told Newsday in May that he believes Playland is a "great place," but said changes are necessary because the park is "costing taxpayers a phenomenal amount of money" at a time when "we're scraping our pennies together to keep essential services going."

Ken Jenkins, chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, which would have to approve whatever proposal Astorino comes up with, said lawmakers haven't reached a consensus on which of the proposed plans they would back.

"We will not be rushed," he said. "We're going to go through whatever proposal is offered carefully and methodically."

Jenkins and other Democrats on the board have sparred with Astorino over the park and have called for an independent audit of the park's finances, accusing the Republican leader of inaccurate figures on the park's finances.

Democrats also recently resurrected a proposal, which was vetoed last year by Astorino, to convert a historic bathhouse at the entertainment park into a children's museum. The nonprofit group behind the museum proposal wants to invest more than $6.4 million in renovations to the bathhouse, but county officials said they need more details about the plan.

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