Standard Amusements Is the New Operator of Playland. Board of Legislators approves Playland Management Agreement Unanimously

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WPCNR COUNTY CLARION-LEDGER.  Extracted From Various news releases from The Westchester County Board of Legislators and  WPCNR reporting by John F. Bailey (EDITED) June 15, 2015 UPDATED JUNE 16, 5:10 PM EDT.

As reported Monday afternoon by WPCNR, (as  County Legislator Benjamin Boykin predicted), the Board of Legislators passed legislation designating Standard Amusements as the new operator of Playland, with the county retaining ownership, while Standard preserves and upgrades the park. The agreement is for fifteen years.

With the passage of the agreement, Standard Amusements will now begin co-managing Playland with the County for the remainder of the 2015 season.  Following the co-management period, Standard has until October 31, 2015 to finalize the deal.

The terms of the Playland Management Agreement call for the County to receive an upfront payment from Standard Amusements of $2.25 million.  Standard is then required to make an additional $22.5 million in capital improvements to the park in the next five years.  Standard has indicated that they plan to make those investments in the first three years of the agreement.

If Standard after getting into the park this summer  finds the park situation unacceptable for renovation and upgrade for whatever reason by October 31, they have a right to walk away and pay the county $500,000 as a “buy-out.” The $2.25 Million upfront payment is being held in escrow until October 31.

After Standard has recouped its initial investment, the county would share in 7.5% of the profit from Playland operations.  Additionally, Standard will pay the County an annual $300,000 management fee that increases by approximately 2% each year.

Following the vote, BOL Chairman Michael Kaplowitz  Somers said, “It has been almost five years since County Executive Astorino announced his intentions to find a private partner to operate the amusement park and it has indeed been a roller-coaster ride since then.  I thank my colleagues on the Board for their bipartisan cooperation and hard work in committee and I thank County Executive Astorino for his administration’s hard work and partnership in bringing about the last, best option for a major investment of financial capital and industry expertise in Playland.”

Kaplowitz added. “This review process has been absolutely transparent and has fully engaged the public along the way.  While we have finished this important step in the review process, the Board will continue its diligent oversight of Playland throughout the course of the agreement.”

(Editor’s Note:  It should be known that about three hours of the Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing Committee negotiations on the last week  last moment legal challenges were worked out privately with the Astorino administration out of sight of the public. Those last minute legal challenges were raised by Legislator Boykin  on the need for guaranteed reimbursement to the county for Playland County employees hired by Standard Amusements; Legislator Catherine Parker’s demand that the capital projects planned for Playland be committed to by Standard Amusements with a specific approval procedure; and  Chair of the Committee MaryJane Shimsky’s concern that Standard Amusements could decide the fate of the Playland pool without county input.

Boykin’s noticing that the rembursement piece was missing from the Astorino administration resolution on the labor agreement was included, with “fair and equitable negotiations” promised by Standard Amusements.

Ms. Parker’s concern was that capital projects be spelled out and specifics as how they would be paid for and the procedure for beginning them and the timing of them was needed. Parker succeeded in Standard agreeing that Playland Parkway lighting would be upgraded; the colonades repaired; the North Boardwalk repaired; the restoration of the smaller buildings in the existing park and the installation of a parkwide fire suppression system to protect them

Ms. Parker did not succeed in getting specifics into the Memorandum as to the procedures for paying for the capital projects, and the timing of them, though they are supposed to take place within the first 5 years of the agreement. Mr. Boykin told WPCNR this afternoon that the payment for the capital projects would consist of a combination of county money and Standard Amusement investment, not spelled out as yet.

Parker also this afternoon during the noon portion of the Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing Committee said she felt the redesign of the entrance to the park from the Playland Parkway and the decision as to what to do with the pool and water feature area (by the present pool) could not be made yet, pending more detailed Standard Amusements analysis of the shape the pool is presently in and the work needed to bring it up to industry standard.

Following the vote, County Executive Rob Astorino said, “I want to thank Chairman Kaplowitz for his leadership on moving this forward with the necessary speed and due diligence,” Astorino added, “This deal meets our three goals for preserving Playland by reversing the losses for taxpayers, putting the park in the hands of a top-flight operator, and revitalizing Playland as a must-visit destination for families for years to come.”

 Legislator Ben Boykin, of the 5th District representing White Plains and Scarsdale, stated, “It was very important that this public-private partnership protected the workers at Playland that have been there for a long time, oversee the park’s day to day functions and often have critical skills that we could not live without.  I am thankful that Standard Amusements was willing to work collaboratively with us to accomplish that goal without the taxpayers taking any additional burden as a result.  The financial investment by Standard Amusements will return Playland to one of the crown jewels in our park system and will enhance the visitor experience to this iconic landmark.”

Catherine Parker who pushed for Standard Amusements to agree to executing capital improvements already called for by the county capital plan to be included in the final Memorandum of Understanding approved this afternoon by the Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing Committee, though without specific procedures outlined as she originally hoped, said

“This is one of the largest public investments that has been made at Playland in decades and will make significant strides towards revitalizing one of the County’s greatest assets. Making sure that taxpayers get everything they could out of this deal was always my top priority and until the specific capital improvements were memorialized in writing, I could not have supported this proposal.  This was not a perfect process by any stretch but I believe that the taxpayers will benefit from the increased value of Playland as a result of the capital infusion it will receive.”

 Legislator Ken Jenkins sounded a note of caution about the agreement in a statement released by the Board of Legislators:

“This arrangement does not go far enough to benefit Westchester taxpayers and short circuited the due diligence that eventually crippled the previous agreement.  Given those circumstances, I commend my colleagues for their efforts in crafting legislation that begins to take some of the steps forward that Playland desperately needs.

I believe Standard Amusements is a solid partner in this effort and will do a quality job in upgrading Playland.

I remain concerned that there is no way to enforce the numerous agreements and insure this prime waterfront park remains available to all but I am willing to support the agreement to give this incarnation of the County Executive’s proposal.”

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