Westchester County officials have terminated a deal with a private company to operate Playland. The company’s principal says he is stunned by the turn of events but continues to seek positive discussions about the future of the Rye amusement park.
Citing a need to protect taxpayers and the park, Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer says the county recently notified Standard Amusements’ legal counsel of its decision to end the agreement.
“We are not going to give up on democracy. And I don’t think a 30-year deal, if you’re not sure that your dance partners really want to dance with you, is the right way to go,” Latimer says. “We believe they’re in breach and, because of that, we have sent them a letter seeking to terminate the agreement.”
Latimer says the decision follows a lengthy review and discussion of the provisions of the agreement reached under his predecessor, Republican County Executive Rob Astorino and, more recently, after extended negotiations between the county attorney and Standard Amusements. Around a year ago, Latimer’s county attorney and director of operations issued a report about the contract reached under Astorino.
“It was clear to us that there were problems with it and it was clear to us that the response to that was not, hey, let’s see how we can work this out,” Latimer says.
In response to Latimer’s decision and public comments, Standard Amusements issued a lengthy statement. In it, principal Nicholas Singer says Playland holds a special place in his heart, that since he was a child, Playland was the center of his life and he is stunned by the recent turn of events. He adds, “After 9 years of our best efforts, we still are not the operator of Rye Playland despite a clear contract that says we should be. We have done everything within our power, and then some, to have a positive dialogue with the Latimer Administration to improve Rye Playland. We identified issues of public concern, committed more money to resolve them, presented a highly detailed plan of our vision, supplied detailed answers to a never-ending list of insincere concerns – but through it all it has become clear that George Latimer seems personally determined that this will all end in expensive litigation – litigation we continue to hope to avoid.”
County attorney John Nonna explains why he believes Westchester is entitled to terminate the contract.
“And Standard had to submit monthly reports as to what it was spending its money on. The prior administration didn’t seem to care what Standard was spending its money on. But we decided to look closely at what it was spending its money on, and we audited those expenses and what they were being spent on,” Nonna says. “And what we saw, we concluded did not meet the requirements of the contract. They were not investments in capital projects as provided in the contract, such as new rides.”
“I believe that Playland is a jewel of a facility. I do not believe that it is a white elephant or an out of time obligation that we have been saddled with,” says Latimer. “In that regard, I believe I part company from the previous administration, who I believe to view Playland as a problem to be dealt with rather than as an opportunity to be developed.”
Republican Minority Leader John Testa of the County Board of Legislators says he is disappointed in the county’s decision.
“I think Playland, some call it the gem of Westchester; I call it the anchor of Westchester. It can never make money. It’s in a debt service into the multi-millions as we speak. It’s something that needs to be rethought,” Testa says. “If we’re going to cancel this contract and move on in a new way, and RFPs are going to be sent out as the administration has alluded to, then let’s get some different ideas of what that space could be used for.”
He was hopeful that a May 1 Board of Legislators meeting to hear from Latimer and members of his senior team would result in saving the contract with Standard Amusements. Now, Testa says he will not support any county resources going toward Playland.
“I will not be voting in favor of any further spending at Playland due to this termination and the fact that now $120 million to $150 million cost will be on the, totally on the backs of the Westchester taxpayer when we could have had up to $50 million contributed by the Standard Amusements contract; they upped their contribution,” says Testa. “So I’m not going to vote yes to spend good money after bad on a plan that’s not in place at an amusement park that really should not be run by a county government, or any government.”
The county is running Playland for the 2019 season, as originally intended. And on Monday, Latimer unveiled the first new commercial for Playland in 10 years and says new features for the 2019 season include a public art display and Westchester Town Days.