County Executive Receives Playland Feasibility Report
White Plains, NY - The process of “Reinventing Playland Park for the 21st Century” advanced to the next phase, as County Executive Robert P. Astorino formally received a report from the citizens committee that he appointed to examine the feasibility of 12 proposals for the park.Last year, Astorino launched his four-phase reinventing Playland initiative by asking for ideas on how to ensure the long-term viability of the county-owned park in Rye, whose amusement portion has been a chronic drain on taxpayers, with losses of $3 million to $5 million a year. The first step was to initiate an RFP (request for proposals) process, which resulted in the receipt of submissions from 12 groups in March.
With the proposals in hand, Astorino then, as step two, appointed a citizens committee, whose members included a broad cross-section of business leaders, elected officials and residents from across the county, to evaluate the feasibility of the proposals. The group was asked to evaluate all of the proposals against a set of criteria that were labeled the “5 E’s” – economics, environment, entertainment, experience and expectations.
In its report made public today, the citizens committee did not make a recommendation on a specific plan or vendor.
“There is no simple ‘silver bullet’ solution to the future of Playland Park and no such solution emerged during the Committee’s review,” the report stated. “A host of significant, longstanding structural obstacles must be overcome as part of any realistic plan for ensuring the long-term viability of the park.”
What the citizens committee did do was group all 12 proposals into three categories: responsive to the evaluation criteria and deserving further attention; some potential; and proposals they believed were not feasible or meriting further review; and suggested that “there may be value to combining some elements of the 12 RFPs or other concepts into a ‘hybrid’ plan for the park.”
Committee Chairman Jim Chisolm said he was extremely proud of the work done by the group and thanked Astorino for the opportunity to let citizens get involved early in the process.
“Our job was not to decide the future of Playland,” said Chisolm. “It was to provide a citizens perspective to the process as a way of helping the county make the best decision possible for the future of the park. What we found along the way was that the issues surrounding Playland are extremely complicated and defy simple answers. That said, we believe opportunities exist to enhance the park’s future and that the best way for that to happen is for the county to avoid any attempts at quick fixes but to continue its deliberative and long-term approach.”
Astorino thanked the committee for its hard work and said that the process now moves to the third phase: further analysis by the county’s legal, financial and parks teams, who have access to confidential proprietary information about the companies, which under the terms of the RFP process was not available to the citizens committee. Those findings would then be added to the citizens committee report and go to Astorino for the fourth phase – a determination by the county executive on how to proceed. The options here could include moving forward with one proposal, or some combination of the proposals, or rejecting all proposals and starting over. That determination is expected by early 2012.
“The job given to the committee members was not an easy one, but they certainly rose to the occasion,” Astorino said. “The findings are thoughtful and go to the heart of the problem, which is that the issues are complex and need clear and creative thinking to solve. We know the old answers won’t work. And now we know new answers won’t just magically appear. But the commitment remains the same – to put this property to the best use for the residents of Westchester County.”
Westchester County currently owns and operates the park – one of only a handful of governmental bodies to be in the amusement park business. With attendance steadily dropping over the past five years – from 1 million in 2005 to 494,000 in 2010 – park ownership has translated into greater taxpayer subsidies. The losses are as much as $5 million annually, including both operating losses and debt.
Chisholm in his cover note to the report detailed the challenges of the task the committee was given.
“It should be stated up front that committee members found the assignment more difficult than initially anticipated,” he said. “There are no shortages of opinions on the topic of what to do about Playland, and this has been true for as long as anyone can remember. But what most members of the public don’t realize is that when you start to look closely at the history of Playland and its future, there is a complex thicket of highly significant though not immediately visible issues, such as parkland alienation, capital financing, debt obligations, and existing labor and vendor contracts that must be addressed as part of any meaningful solution.”
The report goes on to say: “At this critical juncture in Playland’s history, the Committee believes opportunities exist and the county should avoid piecemeal, quick-fix solutions and continue its deliberate, comprehensive, and long-term approach to building the park’s future. Though time consuming, additional financial, legal, environmental, and marketing analyses will be necessary before the best possible outcome for the park’s future can be determined.”
Since 1928, the focal point of the property has been the amusement park, which today has 50 major rides and attractions. 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.
The RFP covered approximately 100 acres of the larger 280-acre Playland property. A critical feature is that its focus goes beyond the historic amusement park. Scenic vistas and a beautiful beach on Long Island Sound, an Olympic-size swimming pool, an extensive waterfront boardwalk, fishing piers, boating lake, dining and picnic areas, a proposed children’s museum, and an indoor ice skating rink, as well as the amusement park, can all be utilized, or not, in the plans submitted by developers.
Here is a summary of the groupings by vendor (in alphabetical order) determined by the citizens committee:
Category I: Proposals believed to fit RFP responsiveness and feasibility criteria and deserve further attention
- Central Amusements International, LLC (CAI Parks)
- Standard Amusements, LLC
- Sustainable Playland
Category II: Proposals that may have some potential role but may not fit within the feasibility criteria and scope of the RFP
- American Skating Entertainment Centers, LLC (ASEC)
- Q Properties
- State Fair Group
Category III: Proposals that do not meet the criteria of responsiveness to the RFP and do not merit further review or are not feasible
- Air Structures American Technology, Inc. (ASATI)
- Boardwalk Arts
- JMC Marketing – Village of Westchester
- TPC Rye, LLC
- Valentine Creative Marketing
The specific 5 E’s criteria to address feasibility were the following:
- Economics – Does the proposal offer a financially viable long-term business model? While the county does not expect to make a profit at the park, the current fiscal situation cannot continue.
- Environment – Is the proposal appropriate to local surroundings, area zoning and the environment?
- Entertainment – Is the proposal consistent with the purpose of a park?
- Experience – Can the county feel confident about the proposer’s track record with respect to finances, customer service, safety and deadlines?
- Expectations – Is the proposal realistic?