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Save Playland, Scrap SPI

(Photo: Nancy Cutler/The Journal News)
(Photo: Nancy Cutler/The Journal News)

By Charmian Neary – The Journal News – April 30, 2014

Sustainable Playland, Inc., says its plan would re-imagine Playland Amusement Park in Rye. But Rye, and Board of Legislators are left out. Westchester County could do better, for the amusement park, and visitors to Playland.

“May 1 was to be the day of reckoning for Sustainable Playland Inc., the improbably named ad hoc organization chosen by Westchester County to re-imagine Playland Amusement Park in Rye. On April 1, SPI walked away from a mutually agreed to series of meetings with the Westchester Board of Legislators that were intended to review the actual feasibility of their plan. The county should have said, "keep walking." Inexplicably, it did not.

SPI, perhaps emboldened by Westchester County's meek response, has spent the month of April whining about the indignity of actually having to answer questions. They complain about legislators, who represent different districts and different parties, not making it easy for them by reaching consensus that matches their vision for the park. They complain about the City of Rye asserting its right to review the plans for what will easily be the largest construction project in the city, in a flood zone no less. And they complain about a lawsuit filed by the Board of Legislators' then-Chairman Ken Jenkins in December 2013 questioning the County Executive's right to enter into an agreement with SPI without board approval.

I don't minimize the impact of Rye City's bold, yet thoroughly justified stance, nor would I wish Jenkins on anyone — a smart and cunning gamesman, he's capable of pulling an ace from his sleeve when you're sure you have him beat. However, it's too much of a coincidence that SPI's hissy fit occurred when, after three years of getting by on slick PR emphasizing vague eco-fabulousness, green space and waterfront access, they ran out of ways to avoid answering fundamental questions about their plan.

Those questions are about traffic, parking, flooding and finances, as well as the fundamental question of how exactly does building an 82,500-square-foot, 40-foot-high indoor sports center on the shoreline translate into eco-anything? Most important, how does the money from this commercial development flow to Playland at all, thereby "sustaining" it?

SPI must certainly know the answer to these questions, but for some curious reason had refused to share them with Westchester legislators. In April, SPI's desperate Hail Mary pass ensued. It looks like it worked. Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz gave SPI a month to vent about how everybody else is to blame for the delay – I guess for having the temerity to try to verify SPI's pie-in-the-sky scenario.

I believe the simple truth is that Sustainable Playland, no matter the earnest intent of some of its initial supporters, is a deceptive, flawed, unworkable plan. All the eco-talk is lipstick on a pig – an enormous for profit field house built in the middle of Playland's parking lot. The field house will not sustain Playland and surely SPI knows it. The field house will suffocate Playland,in what appears to be an attempt to keep "those people" away to satisfy some rich people's needs for another private country club.

There are two private amusement park operators who were contenders for this role along with SPI — both companies who are willing to invest approximately $25 million and able to serve Playland's current patrons with track records for increasing attendance.

Westchester County officials would be wise to take a second look at their proposals and select one or the other and leave SPI at the curb, in a recycling bin of course, not a plastic bag.”

The writer is a resident of Rye.

THE ISSUE

Sustainable Playland, Inc., a Rye-based nonprofit, was selected by Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino to manage historic Rye Playland, the oldest municipally owned amusement park in the nation.

But members of the Westchester Board of Legislators and the City of Rye have questioned aspects of the SPI plan, which includes possible changes at the amusement park, historic buildings and public plazas, and the addition of playing fields and a fieldhouse at the county park. SPI last month sought clarification in what the county wanted to see in plans for the park.

Meanwhile, Playland opens for the season on May 10, under county management.


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