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More Shuffling of Deck Chairs for Rye Playland’s Future

The headline of the news release from Astorino's office was "ASTORINO ANNOUNCES STEPS TO SECURE PLAYLAND’S FUTURE"… but that's the proverbial happy face on what has become the Playland hot potato.

The role of SPI (Sustainable Playland) has been marginalized and we have YAC – yet another consultant. This time it's Dan Biederman (also see this bio) and his firm Biederman Redevelopment Ventures. Clearly Astorino is looking for a more unassailable authority as Biederman has worked on Bryant Park and other successful private public partnerships in New York City.

Two thing different in this case: 1. this is not Manhattan (and its corporate interests or money) and 2. Astorino is running for governor. Playland could become Astorino's albatross. He politicized it in the first place and the gubernatorial run simply provides another FUD factor.

The roller coaster ride that in Playland continues…

Just so you can see each politico's self involved world view, here is the PR that came in this afternoon in rapid fire.

Continue to enjoy the ride. What do you think? Leave a comment below.

ASTORINO:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 11, 2014

Names American Skating Entertainment Centers to Run Ice Casino, 

Dan Biederman to Advise on Current and Future Park Operations

As part of the continuing effort to save Playland, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino today announced several actions designed to improve the finances of the park and increase its attractiveness as a year-round destination.

American Skating Entertainment Centers, the largest independent owner/operator of ice rinks in the United States, whose year-round sports facilities include the Westchester Skating Academy in Elmsford, will become the new operator of the Ice Casino at Playland.

Dan Biederman, recognized internationally as a leader in privately funded urban and public space management, whose accomplishments include the restoration of Bryant Park in New York City, has been hired to do an “on the ground” review of the amusement park, which will include examinations of operations, factors contributing to profits and losses, and opportunities for sponsorships.
Sustainable Playland Inc. will continue to work with the county, but with a shift in focus. SPI will now concentrate on fund raising with a particular emphasis on ensuring money is available with respect to historic preservation and environmental conservation. The county, as it currently does, will retain full control over the operations of the entire 280-acre park.

“Everything we have learned in the last four years has pointed to the same conclusion,” said Astorino. “The long-term financial viability of Playland depends on finding ways to make the park a year-round destination. These latest moves reaffirm our approach to not only improve the amusement park, but also to create complimentary attractions that extend the season beyond the summer. The math is simple. More days and more activities mean more dollars to defray costs to taxpayers and invest in preserving the traditions of Playland.”

Last year, Playland cost taxpayers $4.3 million ($1.3 million in operating losses and $3 million in debt service).

The outline of the deal with American Skating calls for a 10-year contract, with an option to renew for an additional 10 years, that will pay the county an upfront payment of $300,000 the first year; a base payment $250,000 the second year, which will increase by 2% each year thereafter; and 25 percent of the gross revenue above $1.6 million annually.

In addition, American Skating will make $640,000 in capital improvements to the Ice Casino within the first 18 months of the contract. These capital improvements at American Skating’s expense will go largely toward refurbishing and modernizing the interior of the building with upgraded floors, lighting, electronics, bathrooms, locker rooms and guest services areas. These improvements are in addition to the approximately $4.5 million it will take to reopen the Ice Casino in September when repairing the damages caused by Superstorm Sandy will be completed.

“American Skating Entertainment Centers is excited to be coming to Playland, especially at a time when we get to be part of the rebuilding and rebirth of the Ice Casino and the park,” said Shane Coppola, chairman and CEO of American Skating. “Our experience as one of the top ice rink operators in the country, as well as in Westchester, along with the great venue and team at Playland will be a winning combination for skaters at every level and their families.”

Biederman’s role will be to focus on current operations and future opportunities. He and members of his team will be in the park all summer looking for ways to improve revenue generation, cost control, and visitor experience. In addition, the team will explore strategic options for the park such as the selection of a private operator, the addition of new attractions and activities and the development of revenue generating sponsorships. In the fall, Biederman will present a list of recommendations on how best to secure Playland’s long-term future.

“The riddle for solving Playland is how do you make the park relevant in 2014 and still preserve its traditions and charms,” said Biederman, president of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures. “The answer is a combination of operational excellence, having enough money to invest in the future and a vision that positions your assets to excite patrons to want to visit the park for multiple reasons at multiple times throughout the year. The County Executive has put that framework in place. My job is to help tie it together by advising on tactical and strategic matters that will range from improving the financial performance at the park as it now exists to broadening the scope of experiences at the park in the future.”

In its new role, SPI will perform three advocacy functions: act as Playland’s chief private fundraiser, similar to what Friends of Parks does for all of the county’s parks; safeguard the historic nature of park and its traditions; and reach out to residents from around the county to promote their interests and voice their concerns with respect to the future of Playland.

“I want to thank the County Executive for his support,” said Kim Morque, president of Sustainable Playland Inc. “SPI and its volunteer members are proud of the work we have done in launching the vision for a reinvented Playland. We are enthusiastic about our new advocacy and fundraising role, as it will play to our strengths as a group of citizen volunteers. SPI cares deeply about Playland and will continue to work hard to preserve its past traditions and strengthen its financial viability in the future.”
Astorino thanked SPI and its members for their many contributions and looks forward to their continued involvement.

The day-to-day operation of Playland will remain the responsibility of the county Park’s department for the remainder of this year. Whether that role changes won’t be decided until after the recommendations from the Biederman team are made. For the foreseeable future, the county will also deal directly with the park’s current vendors and partners, such as the Children’s Museum, and potential new operators. The asset management agreement the county had with SPI to operate the park will now lapse by mutual agreement. As such, the plans SPI had been making with operators (an Amusement Zone to be run by Central Amusement International and a Field Zone to be run by Playland Sports) are being withdrawn.

Astorino said he understood the frustration that many have that the reinvention of Playland has not moved faster, or been easier. He shares that frustration, but he stressed the important thing was to keep moving forward.

“There are a lot of competing dynamics involved, so it is not surprising that the path to success has not been a straight one,” Astorino said. “But we have made progress, and if we stay focused on finding ways to make the whole park more attractive to more people for more days out of the year, there is still time to find a formula that can secure the future of Playland.”

PARKER (a Rye resident and Rye business owner)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 11, 2014

Westchester Legislator Parker:
Statement on SPI’s Playland Proposal Withdrawal

White Plains, NY – Westchester Legislator Catherine Parker (D-Rye), chair of the Westchester County Board of Legislators’ Environment & Energy Committee, released the following statement today in regard to County Executive Rob Astorino’s announcement that the Playland revitalization plan from Sustainable Playland, Inc. (SPI) was being withdrawn. Astorino has selected Dan Biederman of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures to conduct an operational evaluation of Playland and present a list of recommendations on improving the County’s 280-acre historic amusement park and recreational facility.

“I have long admired the work of Dan Biederman in revitalizing public space and parks in New York City. However, I certainly hope Mr. Biederman does not resurrect the notion of a field house among his recommendations for Playland. The community has shown that to be a non-starter. I encourage Mr. Biederman to avail himself of the plentiful opinions in Rye and incorporate the concerns of our residents and others into his vision. I want to believe that this new turn of events will not end up prolonging the uncertainty over how to revitalize Playland, but each day that passes without a good plan in place diminishes the possibility of a fresh start at Playland for 2015.”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 11, 2014
Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 (office) | 914-419-5221 (cell)

SHIMSKY:

Westchester Legislators Shimsky:
Statement on SPI’s Playland Proposal Withdrawal

White Plains, NY – Westchester Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson), chair of the Westchester County Board of Legislators’ Infrastructure Committee, released the following statement today in regard to County Executive Rob Astorino’s announcement that the Playland revitalization plan from Sustainable Playland, Inc. (SPI) was being withdrawn. Astorino has selected Dan Biederman of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures to conduct an operational evaluation of Playland and present a list of recommendations on improving the County’s 280-acre historic amusement park and recreational facility.

“For me, the main test of any entity seeking to operate Playland is its ability to make a success of the County’s amusement park operation. It has been clear for some time the SPI lacked the expertise, the resources and the desire to do so. Therefore, I am relieved that SPI has been assigned a more appropriate role in Playland’s future.

“However, I am deeply concerned that the Administration seems more interested in buying time than in helping the park. There are already two vendors with amusement park experience that answered the Playland RFP, and both are still interested in operating the park. Immediately negotiating with one or both of these entities would make much more sense than wasting time and taxpayer dollars on a consultant. It is also the only way to make improvements to the park before the 2015 season.

“Moreover, I am concerned about the continued use of Mr. Biederman, who will need to translate his experience—which to date has been focused on dismantling the amusement park—to helping provide the amusement park a path to success. These and other concerns about Mr. Biederman’s continued involvement need to be addressed as quickly as possible, in an open meeting of the appropriate legislative committee.

“Most Westchester residents want a successful amusement park at Playland. The filled-to-capacity parking lot on Memorial Day weekend testifies to the continued potential of an amusement park at the site—even an amusement park that has been so starved of resources for so long.

“If the County Executive truly wants what most Westchester residents want—a successful amusement park at Playland—he would begin negotiations with Central Amusements and Standard Amusements without delay.”

HARKAM:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 11, 2014

Westchester Legislator Pete Harckham:
Statement on SPI’s Playland Proposal Withdrawal

White Plains, NY – Westchester Legislator Pete Harckham (D-North Salem), chair of the Westchester County Board of Legislators’ Labor, Parks, Planning & Housing Committee, released the following statement today in regard to County Executive Rob Astorino’s announcement that the Playland revitalization plan from Sustainable Playland, Inc. (SPI) was being withdrawn. Astorino has selected Dan Biederman of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures to conduct an operational evaluation of Playland and present a list of recommendations on improving the County’s 280-acre historic amusement park and recreational facility.

“While the withdrawal of SPI’s Playland Improvement Plan from consideration certainly represents a setback for the goal of revitalizing Playland, it does afford the Administration and new consultant an opportunity to move forward with the lessons learned from this process: the amusement park must remain the focal point; the impacts to the environment and the neighboring community must be thoroughly vetted and the numbers need to add up and be realistic.

“In the meantime, the Board of Legislators’ Committee on Labor, Parks, Housing & Planning will focus on making Playland as successful as it can be for this season. It is an iconic destination and there is no reason for people not to flock to the park this year.”

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