A landmark amusement park in Westchester County will stay closed for the first time in history. The summer closure comes amid concerns about spreading COVID-19. Meantime, the number of positive cases from an outbreak at graduation events in Chappaqua is rising.
Rye Playland stayed open during World War II.
“And the thought that it hasn’t, it didn’t close during World War II, and it didn’t close 9/11, the stock market, well, a little bit later, but the major things that have happened in this society, this major thing that happened in this society is a pandemic. It’s not just a tragedy, it’s something where the park itself, if used, could spread the disease. That’s why we’re closing it,” says Latimer. “And, again because I have fought so hard for this park, we’ve been through quite the drama, this may be the most dramatic issue of my tenure so far, in terms of the park itself and governance. For me to be the one to close it is particularly hard but, again, you do what you have to do, and I think this is the right decision.”
Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer says the amusement park would have opened May 9 for the summer season, with July 4 weekend the most crucial revenue intake.
“There was not enough significant improvement to justify what happens when 8,000 people go to one place at one time,” Latimer says. “It’s analogous to what we face at the Kensico Dam Plaza with the ethnic festivals.”
And he had to cancel the ethnic festivals. Latimer says the park that had been operational since 1928 can take in as much as $5 million in revenue, which bad weather can knock down to $3 million. This is on top of up to a $130 million sales-tax revenue loss for the county. Latimer says Playland beach will stay open to Westchester residents. Miniature golf and the boardwalk will also stay open. Latimer says this year’s closure is an opportunity to advance some maintenance projects.
“We thought that we would be better off keeping the park closed, do the upgrades, make it more ready for next year,” Latimer says.
He says many of the park’s seasonal employees will have opportunities elsewhere in the county.
“There’s a lot of young people that are employed at Playland, seasonal employees,” Latimer says. “And under other circumstances, this would be a loss of opportunity for them to work but, because our two beaches and ultimately our four pools require more manpower now in order to manage them, managing, we’re managing sessions at the pool, not just all the swimming, and the beaches as well, we intend to hire quite a bit of the people that would otherwise be working at Playland.”
Fireworks at Kensico Dam Plaza July 3 and at Playland July 4 have been canceled. The park will host two drive-in movies in the parking lot on Friday nights, July 24 and August 7.
Latimer also addressed a spike in positive COVID-19 cases from Horace Greeley High School’s June drive-in graduation. He believes the party that followed is the source of contagion.
“It was the field night afterwards that was not organized by a particular organization, and the use of masks were dropped down very low. It was a party atmosphere for high school kids, understandable, it’s a high school graduation,” Latimer says. “Student from other neighboring high schools came to enjoy the social night, and so we’re tracking now what kind of positives we have that may stretch into different directions.”
The school district includes a slice of a few other communities, so Latimer says positive cases may turn up in these areas as well. Latimer on Tuesday reported more than 40 positive cases, an increase from 18 cases reported Monday. Latimer says 19 are related to the Chappaqua cluster.
“We have two great advantages today that we did not have four months ago when the first index patient occurred in New Rochelle. Number one, we have a robust testing system. We’ve talked about the numbers of people. It is much easier to get a test now than it was in March,” Latimer says. “If you recall, we did not have the CDC allow for the state to administer tests, much less the county, until 10 days or so into March, as I recall.”
The second advantage, he says, is contact tracing. Latimer says, so far, there is one confirmed positive COVID case from a Bronxville unity rally June 20.