County Explores Options for Future of Playland

County Executive Rob Astorino (left) and Jim Chisolm, the chair of the Playland Citizens Committee, hold up the committee's report on the future of Playland Park Thursday.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino hopes years from now, when his grandchildren are sitting on his lap, he’ll be able to tell them that “grandpa fixed Playland.” First, though, he’ll have to figure out how.

Six months after Astorino formed a committee to explore possibilities for the future of Playland Park in Rye, the committee has submitted its report on the various proposals under consideration. Out of the 12 proposals, three were considered “responsive to the RFP” but the committee warned that there was “no silver bullet” in fixing the park’s economic woes.

“There are a lot of complexities, challenges and risks with Playland, but we really have to address them head on to make sure that we fix Playland for the future,” Astorino said at a press conference Thursday morning. “The ways of the past will not continue at Playland, because it is hemorrhaging money and it’s just not acceptable for me or the taxpayers, so we will find a solution.”

Playland has seen its annual attendance drop from 1 million visitors in 2005 to less than 500,000 in 2010, and Astorino expects attendance to drop further this year. The park has been running at a loss of as much as $5 million per year, including $3 million of debt service.

Astorino put out an RFP and received 12 proposals in March. The 17-member committee (originally 19) studied all the proposals, threw out half, said three deserved further consideration and said three weren’t quite feasible but could have a potential role.

“This process was much harder than expected,” said Jim Chisolm, who chaired the Playland Citizens Committee. “What we’ve found is there’s no silver bullet that will solve Playland’s future.”

One of the three possibilities the committee called feasible was a proposal by Central Amusements International, the same company that took over the amusement park at Coney Island in Brooklyn. Another was a proposal submitted by Standard Amusements .These plan would keep the site as an amusement park much like it is now but with improvements to the quality of the rides. New attractions, such as a water park, would be added under each proposal.

The third feasible proposal, Sustainable Playland, would scale back the park’s operations. It would turn some of the land into open space, including a “great lawn,” sports fields, bike paths and fitness trails.

Astorino said it was possible the amusement park could be closed next year, though he noted the beach and public park would remain open.

“Every time I run into somebody who says ‘Don’t do anything about Playland, it’s got to stay open, I love Playland,’ and I ask when the last time it was they were there, it was 20 years ago,” Astorino said. “There are a lot of residents of Westchester who are not going to Playland and as such the taxpayers are propping up non-residents to come into an amusement park that’s losing a lot of money.”

Astorino is hesitant to pour more money into the park, saying the park’s ceiling for potential visitors was relatively low.

“You’re not going to bring two or three million people into that park. You’re just not,” he said. “When your revenues are somewhat limited and your expenses are open ended, that’s just not a good business model for us.”

While Astorino acknowledged the down economy had an impact on the park’s revenues, he noted the drop in attendance had begun before the recession.

Visit www.westchestergov.com for the committee’s full 29-page report.

 

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