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Dems fight in the sandbox with Astorino over Rye Playland

Bill Ryan (D-White Plains) speaks at a press

Bill Ryan (D-White Plains) speaks at a press conference as Democratic members of the Westchester County Board of Legislatures discuss the future of the Rye Playland amusement park. (Aug. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: John Meore

Three Democratic lawmakers who want to wrest control of money-losing Rye Playland from Westchester County's Republican Executive Rob Astorino are calling for an independent audit of the beachfront amusement park.

"We're out of the loop, we basically need to take over the process," said legislator Judy Meyers (D-Larchmont) during a morning news conference at Playland. She said "omissions" in Astorino's financial statements for the park present an "incomplete" story and that an independent audit could supply the necessary "figure analysis" to plan for the 84-year-old fun spot's future.

Meyers was joined by Bill Ryan (D-White Plains) and Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), who both spoke fondly of childhood memories relating to Playland, before denouncing Astorino's handling of the 280-acre facility.

Ryan accused Astorino of a "failure of leadership" that has led to inadequate marketing of the property's appeal, suggesting that the current $30 admission price is too high. Borgia urged the county to continue its investment in shoring up Playland's infrastructure.

"This is a place with a lot of emotional resonance for many, many Westchester residents," Borgia said.

The legislators also made a pitch for installing the Westchester Children's Museum in a vacant bathhouse at Playland -- a proposal vetoed last year by Astorino. Last month, Democrats on the Westchester County Legislature resurrected the proposal. They voted to send the county executive a 10-year lease for the children's museum that was nearly identical plan to one that Astorino already rejected.

In responding to the legislators' latest charges, Astorino's office provided a statement saying the county executive is still on track to provide an update in mid-September -- after Playland closes for the season -- on possible ways to spruce up the park.

The statement also took a swipe at Ryan and Myers, noting that they had served on County Executive Astorino's Playland Citizens Advisory Committee, which reviewed the development proposals for updating the park and issued recommendations in September 2011, with the conclusion that "there is no 'silver bullet' solution to the future of Playland," according to Astorino's statement.

The county has said the Rye-based national historic landmark was $3 million in the red last year and is losing money due to rising labor costs, $30 million in debt obligations for capital projects and a drop in attendance. Last year's attendance was estimated at 500,000, half the 1 million visitors that came in 2005.

On May 12, opening day, Astorino had said talks were under way with three companies interested in introducing everything from a water park to indoor rock climbing. The three bidders are Central Amusements International, Standard Amusements and American Skating Entertainment Centers. The three proposals were narrowed from a list of 12 contenders.

Under the terms of the proposed lease for the museum, it 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. Museum executives did not return a call for comment.

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