After a roller coaster ride of now you have it, now you don't, today County Boss Rob Astorino gave Sustainable Playland the nod with a 10 year deal to manage Rye Playland.
Here is the announcement:
The vision of a reinvented Playland for the 21st century moved a step closer to reality Thursday when County Executive Robert P. Astorino and the leaders of Sustainable Playland Inc. (SPI) announced they had reached a 10-year agreement, with an option for an additional 10 years, on the management of the iconic park in Rye.
Once signed and fully executed, the "Asset Management Agreement" will shift responsibility to SPI to operate, manage and maintain the county-owned park as of Oct. 1, 2013, assuming the new operator has obtained all of the approvals and permits that are required, including any needed from the county Board of Legislators.
"This agreement ensures that Playland will not only exist in the future but will flourish with $34 million in new private investment from Sustainable Playland," Astorino said. "Not only will the Dragon Coaster and the other historic rides be preserved, but the attractions will be expanded to make the park a destination for families year round. We started with a blank piece of paper three years ago. Now thanks to a lot of hard work and creativity, we have the vision and expertise in place for Playland to thrive for generations to come."
Civic Commercial Partnership
Under the agreement, SPI will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of both the amusement area and the surrounding 100 acres of parkland. Proceeds to pay the county, maintain the grounds and make improvements will come from equity investments from the operators, fees SPI charges its operators, revenues generated by the attractions run by the operators, and other revenue such as parking and sponsorships. The park will be open year round with no admission fee and access to Edith Read Wildlife Sanctuary, the Boardwalk and the Pier will also remain free. Access to the beach is open to all, subject to fees (similar to those that already exist).
"The SPI plan is designed to preserve, restore and enhance the historic character and qualities of Playland, including the historic amusement rides, the classic buildings and the landscape," said Kim Morque, president of SPI. "Our vision is to have a beautiful park that capitalizes on its unique waterfront location and offers year-round activities and entertainment to attract individuals and families from across Westchester and the region. Our public-private partnership model is being used successfully nationwide and provides the opportunity for a long-term approach to assuring Playland' s viability for generations to come."
Playland is scheduled to open for the season on Saturday, May 11. For the 2013 season, it will be run, as in the past, by the county's Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, subsidized with county funds.
For the future, plans call for six zones to operate within the park:
- Amusement Zone: Playland's historic rides will remain, including the Dragon Coaster and the Derby Racer, as well as Kiddyland and arcade games. Some existing rides will be removed while new rides will be added as part of an ongoing program to upgrade the amusement area.
- Aqua/Beach Zone: Playland's beach and pool area will feature more amenities, including chair and sun umbrella rentals, cafés and activities such as water slides and floats.
- Field Zone: There will be a field house for indoor sports, plus outdoor athletic fields for soccer, lacrosse and other sports.
- Fountain Plaza Zone: This area will feature year-round restaurants, cafes, outdoor dining, special events as well as the Ice Casino.
- Great Lawn Zone: This area will feature the Central Promenade, which will remain open to the public year round, as well a picnic shelters, seasonal music and dance performances, a variety of special programming and the historic Grand Carousel.
- Common Area Zone: This encompasses "everything else" within the park's footprint, such as parking lots and the lake, shore and beach leading to the Edith Read Wildlife Sanctuary.
With the asset management agreement complete, it now goes to the county's Board of Acquisition & Contract for approval, which is expected later this month. Today marks another significant step forward in a process that began in 2010 when Astorino moved to ensure the future viability of the park, whose attendance figures have dropped from over 1 million in 2005 to 430,000 in 2012 and whose losses have been costing county taxpayers $3 million to $5 million annually in recent years.
In 2011, 12 companies responded to a county request for proposals (RFP) to "reinvent" the park. These proposals were carefully reviewed by the county and a 19-member Citizens Advisory Committee, which included three members of the Board of Legislators, two Democrats and one Republican. Sustainable was chosen last October because it had the best vision – financially and operationally – as well as far-reaching experience and strong local ties. Since then lawyers for the county and SPI have been working out the details of the asset management agreement.
- SPI will pay the county a base fee that could eventually total $4 million, provided all zones become operational as planned. SPI will also make annual payments to the county based on the park's net operating revenue. SPI estimates this to be about $1.2 million per year once the park is fully developed. All of the SPI payments will go toward retiring the county's existing debt for Playland of approximately $35 million.
- SPI will amend its bylaws to include on its Board of Directors a representative of the County Executive and a representative of the Board of Legislators, as well as a resident of the City of Rye. The county Parks Commissioner will also sit on SPI's board.
- SPI must develop an "improvement plan," which outlines the material changes it plans to make to the park as the new operator. The County Executive and the Board of Legislators must both approve the improvement plan before the changes go into effect.
- The agreement between the county and SPI is for 10 years and can be renewed for an additional 10 years with the approval of both parties. In addition, the agreement recognizes that SPI may enter into subagreements of up to 20 years with its vendors, subject to the approval of the county's Board of Acquisition & Contract.
- The county may terminate the contract upon six months notice "for cause," which would include breaches such as payment defaults.
- The contract contemplates that all the necessary approvals will be in place by Oct. 1, which is the scheduled commencement date of the agreement. However, if all approvals are not in place by Jan. 1, 2014, including those by the Board of Legislators for the improvement plan, SPI has the right to terminate the agreement.
"The contract was written to follow the county charter and respect the roles and responsibilities of both the executive and legislative branches," Astorino said. "I welcome the Board's due diligence, but it must be done in a timely fashion. We also need to respect our partners at SPI, who are putting themselves at financial risk by investing $34 million of their money to save Playland. Unnecessary delays will put the future of Playland in jeopardy."
SPI is a not-for-profit holding company, which has assembled an experienced and highly regarded team of operators to run each zone. SPI's not-for-profit status gives the company access to low-cost financing and means that money after expenses will be invested back into the park.
Overseeing the overall management of the park for SPI will be Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, headed by Dan Biederman, a Chappaqua resident whose experience includes co-founding and managing the Bryant Park Corporation, the 34th Street Partnership, and heading major efforts nationally to bring private resources and management techniques to work on public problems.
"The SPI plan will allow visitors to enjoy both amusement park rides and a passive park experience with beautiful views of Long Island Sound," said Biederman. "We will bring private-sector techniques and diverse revenue streams to bear on the problems that have made Playland unaffordable for the county government."
The operating team being assembled by SPI includes:
- Amusement and Aqua Beach Zones: Steve Turk and the Mega Funworks Team. Capital investment upwards of $7 million.
- Field Zone: John Abate and Eric DeGraw of Playland Sports Center LLC. Capital Investment $12.4 million.
- Fountain Plaza Zone: Shane Coppola of American Skating Entertainment Centers. Capital investment $600,000.
The county will ensure the park is in a condition that is satisfactory to SPI prior to the commencement date, when SPI will assume responsibility for management and operations of the park. Repairs to the boardwalk, Ice Casino and other parts of the park damaged by Superstorm Sandy are currently being made by the county as the owner of the property.
Following is an approximate timetable of some of the key dates, which are generally dependent on earlier events happening on schedule:
April: Approval of the asset management agreement by Board of Acquisition & Contract is expected in mid-April.
May: Playland opens for the 2013 season on May 11, under county management. Within 30 days of the approval of the asset management agreement by the Board of Acquisition & Contract, SPI must submit a Playland Improvement Plan (PIP), consisting of the material changes the group proposes to make when the park comes under its management.
June: The County Executive's office is expected to receive SPI's improvement plan. Following the County Executive's approval, the PIP will go to the Board of Legislators for its approval.
October: Commencement date – when SPI takes responsibility for operations – is scheduled in the contract for Oct. 1, 2013. This date may be extended based upon receipt of required approvals. However, if commencement is delayed beyond Jan. 1, 2014, because the BOL has failed to approve the Playland Improvement Plan by then, SPI has unilateral right to terminate agreement.
At the commencement date, SPI will pay the county the first $500,000 installment.
Playland's location on the shores of Long Island Sound already had a long history as a favorite recreation area of the local population by 1927. According to an early report of the Westchester County Park Commission, the area evolved rapidly as the population increased, until the late 1800s, when fancy resorts were already giving way to bawdy hotels and rowdy amusement areas, attracting unsavory crowds. Angry local residents petitioned the Commission to purchase and redevelop the area. To create Playland, the commission purchased and razed two theme parks on the site, Rye Beach and Paradise Park.
The day after Labor Day, 1927, over 1,000 men began construction. Work was finished in time for the scheduled opening on May 26, 1928. Visiting experts immediately declared Playland to be one of the finest recreational centers of its kind in the country. Soon other amenities were added: the Olympic-size pool, increased boardwalk concessions, an indoor ice skating rink, a scenic railway, and additional restaurants and picnic areas.
The prototype of today's modern theme parks, Playland was the country's first totally planned amusement park. Seven of its rides and several of its art deco buildings are designated as National Historic Landmarks. As the only Art Deco amusement park in America, Playland is part of the National Register of Historic Places.