Group Riled by Astorino Plan to Review Playland Using Sustainable Playland Consultant

WPCNR PLAYLAND GO-ROUND. From Save Playland. (EDITED) June 16, 2014:

Save Playland, the grassroots citizens effort that came together a year and half ago over concerns about a variety of threats to the long term survival of Playland Amusement Park, has stated their opposition to County Executive Rob Astorino’s recent announcement to begin a new “on the ground” study of Playland’s operations.

While Save Playland is relieved that the Sustainable Playland Inc. group (“SPI”) no longer has an Asset Management Agreement to run the beloved historic County park, and considers it a very positive development that the massive ‘Field Zone’ construction project has been taken off the table, this new turn raises deep concerns about the direction of County Executive Astorino’s true plans for Playland.

This new tactic to put off any decisions until after the Gubernatorial race is over will further delay any improvements to the park and may very well jeopardize any hope of getting a viable, experienced operator in place to turn things around.

It raises red flags that SPI is being allowed to remain on as an involved entity in any way whatsoever, least of all in being assigned oversight of the historic preservation and fund-raising duties for the park.

The new study proposed by the County Executive is highly objectionable because it is assigned to Dan Biederman, one of the architects of the original SPI plan. While well regarded in his field and clearly able to demonstrate impressive successes at Bryant Park in NYC and other locations, Mr. Biederman should not necessarily be expected to be an objective reviewer as he was part of the development team for SPI’s flawed plan, which has now been deemed unworkable. 

If further study truly needs to be done on the operations of Playland Amusement Park, an entity qualified specifically in the amusement park industry should be chosen to do it. In addition, it is being reported that the County Executive is paying Mr. Biederman $20k a month for his four month long “evaluation” bringing the fee to a total of $80k. This is enormous sum of money and raises the question of whether or not there was any bidding process for this consulting job.       

Save Playland is calling for the County Board of Legislators to continue their review of operators by meeting with the two remaining finalist applicants in the RFP process: Central Amusements and Standard Amusements.

With the same speedy and efficient method we saw the Labor Parks Planning & Housing Committee undertake this year in vetting SPI, the Legislators could quickly accomplish a review expounding on the vetting previously done on these two entities. This could move a plan into place going forward much sooner than the extended timeline County Executive Astorino has laid out at no further significant cost to taxpayers.

Now that the SPI plan has been withdrawn the County should proceed immediately to reach out to the other two finalist applicants before they withdraw their commitment to invest significant funding into Playland Park.

These two vendors – Central Amusements Inc. and Standard Amusements – have committed to investing millions of private sector dollars towards making Playland a success. They submitted their proposals after the 2010 RFP process was announced.

They may (understandably) have reached such a level of exasperation with the process at this point that they will now bow out never to return. These two remaining RFP respondents are prepared today to invest millions of dollars into the park and get things up and running in time for the 2015 Playland season; we cannot afford to squander this opportunity with further delays.

County Executive Astorino’s announcement this week should be rejected because:

  • The time for study is over. When carefully reviewed by the Board of Legislators, the SPI plan was shown to be fatally flawed.  We need to move on quickly to a solution that makes economic sense.  
  • SPI has not demonstrated any ability to be an effective advocate for Playland or the surrounding community and should have no further involvement in the Park’s future.
  • There are concerns about the announced ten-year contract with American Skating: Was there any bidding process for this contract and does it need BOL approval? Why did the CE choose to move forward with one of SPI’s chosen operators and not the other? (EDITOR’S NOTE: According to Chairman of Board of County Legislators Press spokesperson, Matt Richter, the American Skating contract is subject to approval by the Board of Legislators)
  •  The County has already paid $250k for a 260-page “Master Plan” for Playland drawn up by Bullock, Smith & Partners. In effect, little – if anything – has changed so, pragmatically speaking no new study is necessary. Hiring Mr. Biederman at this juncture to produce a new evaluation is redundant and an egregious waste of taxpayer money.
  • The goal of calling for a new study at this point is clearly to delay a decision until after Election Day and stop the tough analysis of SPI that the County Board of Legislators has undertaken in recent months.
  • The goal of this new plan put forth by County Executive Astorino appears to be to scare off the private sector investors with amusement park experience so that there’s no choice left but to default back to the inexperienced and under-funded SPI group at the end of the day. Sustainable Playland has clearly stated repeatedly that their “vision” has never included a successful Amusement Park at Playland. This is unacceptable.

Westchester County residents and the Board of Legislators should not accept these delay tactics and this plan to move the failed Playland process off the front pages until post-election season. It is time to choose a qualified amusement park operator before the clock and private sector dollars run out.

We are calling on the BOL to immediately circumvent these delay tactics, get back to the review process to finish vetting both Standard Amusements and Central Amusements, then move forward in a positive, constructive way to ensure a brighter future for this beloved Westchester County treasure.

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