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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Sustainable Playland Slowly Raises the White Flag of Defeat

By NANCY KING
Sometimes you can fight “City Hall” and actually make a difference. That is what a small group of Rye residents and a few members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators  (WCBoL) learned this week.  After months of legal wrangling it sure does seems as though the non- profit group Sustainable Playland (SPI) is just about ready to walk away from the project.  Chosen by Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino back in 2012, the civic-commercial partnership was created to make the aging park profitable while relieving the county from its duty of being in the amusement park business.  The group was also charged with coming up with a plan to make Playland a year round destination rather than a seasonable one. After years of behind closed door meetings with whatever elected official d’jour happened to be in office, SPI finally presented a plan that had residents not only from Rye shaking their heads, but county residents at large doing the same thing.

According to SPI, the silver bullet that would save Playland and make it more profitable would come in the form of an athletic field house that was to have been 95,000 sq. ft. in size.  In case you’re wondering just how large an edifice of that size really is, this visual should put it in perspective for you…one could park two 747 airplanes in a building that size!   And to build a structure that large, the group proposed it should be built in the present Playland parking lot. Naturally you would need to cut the current parking spaces by 40% but who needs parking when you’ve put all your eggs in the fieldhouse’s basket and none in the basket of Playland at large.

The proposal raised an automatic red flag. Parking for park visitors would be greatly diminished and if that were the case, did Sustainable Playland really have the best interest of those visitors in mind who may not be of the same socio-economic stature as those members of SPI?  Red flag number two raised the question why this group would propose building a field house of that magnitude right smack dab in the middle of a FEMA flood zone?  With the amount of flooding that occurs in Rye, a proposal like this is just plain dumb. Didn’t the county just finish making final repairs to the damage incurred by Superstorm Sandy earlier this month?  And just who would be using this indoor sports club?  Members who would pay hefty membership fees for the privilege of kicking a soccer ball about in a climate controlled astro turf field.  It sure wasn’t intended to be a recreation center for Rye or county residents. It was intended to attract those who could afford a high-end sports facility.   What would happen if we drop into another recession; you can be darn sure that the high-end private field house would suddenly become available to a host of other groups to rent.

The final red flag was the fact that SPI never accounted for the impact that this building would have on the neighbors who have property on the perimeter of the parking lot. Shouldn’t this impact be a part of a comprehensive environmental plan?

SPI never seemed to address what they were actually going to do to rehab the amusement portion of the park.  Sure, the rides that had been designated historic would remain, but most of the other rides would have to be removed to make way for a small scale water park.  What they did admit to is that SPI had no experience in the amusement park business.  That’s another huge red flag.  Central Amusements and Standard Amusements both submitted plans to the County but were passed over during the vetting process to find a group to re-invent Playland.  Wonder why? I bet those two companies wonder why as well. 

So now we have an April 9th letter from SPI asking how to proceed. If you read between the lines, it reads like a we quit letter.  Throw in Rye City Mayor Joe Sack and his board now asking to be the lead agency for the re-invention of the park and you now have a project that appears to be back at square one.   SPI has clearly thrown the ball back in Astorino’s court, and the park, which Astorino claims hemorrhages money, is set to open for the season in a few weeks.  The county is once again at the helm and the communications department is at the ready to issue this season’s media release advising Playland has lost another $3 - $5 million again.  Even Mike Kaplowitz, chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators agrees that Sustainable Playland is looking for a way to bow out of the project as the WCBoL is getting ready to take a vote concerning the future of the park on May 13th.  All that Kaplowitz and the rest of the board (along with the rest of us) want from SPI are answers as to why there hasn’t been a full environmental review, how they would pay off their debt and their total vision for the park in the future.  All of these questions could have been easily addressed by answering the questions put forth in the Playland Improvement Plan.  Failing to do so makes Sustainable Playland and Westchester County Executive Astorino look disingenuous about their plans from the get go.
So it seems it is now time to start playing the funeral dirge for Sustainable Playland.  For the amount of time, money and political posturing that started back in 2009 with Astorino’s initial campaign for County Executive, we could have resurrected and built the Rye to Oyster Bay Bridge.
Nancy King is a freelancer residing in Westchester County.

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