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Westchester Legislators Move Forward in Deciding Playland’s Future

Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining) speaks at Playland

White Plains, NY – The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) moved forward yesterday with its evaluation of the top four proposals for the revitalization of Playland, the 280-acre County park and National Historic Landmark, as Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), chair of the BOL Government Operations Committee, outlined goals for the decision process and scheduled an in-depth discussion of the proposals for next week’s committee meeting.

Borgia asked the BOL’s Government Operations Committee members to carefully review the packets they had received containing information presented by the four Playland RFP respondents—Sustainable Playland, Standard Amusements, Central Amusements and the Paidia Company—regarding proposed operations, financial viability and intended modifications to the park and infrastructure. While the legislators may request additional information from the respondents, Borgia wants her colleagues to bring to the committee table questions and comments about the proposals.

"We have already generated a lot of questions and discussion about the proposals for Playland, which will serve as a good framework for our analysis of each presentation," said Borgia. "Now, we have to boil it all down to a committee consensus on the pros and cons of each proposal, and make a decision that will be right for Westchester."

Borgia reiterated that the Board of Legislators’ Playland proposal process was focused on the economic, recreational and environmental impact each vision of the park’s future will have on all of Westchester. She also noted that the entire BOL plans to collaborate closely with the Astorino Administration on the results of the BOL analysis, "and a way to move forward together with a final decision that benefits the whole county."

Sustainable Playland representatives are being scheduled to return to the BOL’s Government Operations Committee next week as well to present more information for the legislators.

"This comprehensive evaluation provides county residents and business owners with an excellent opportunity to participate in a decision that will reverberate through our cities and communities," said BOL Majority Leader Pete Harckham, who noted the BOL’s open meetings are streamed on video and archived online.

In the 2012 Adopted County Budget, Playland expenses were $12.4 million plus $3.6 million of debt service. Departmental revenue for the park was budgeted at $10.3 million. Without the debt service, the park was slated to make a $1.6 million profit.

The four top proposals for the reinvention of Playland presented to the BOL included the following information:

Sustainable Playland, Inc. (SPI) is a not-for-profit organization. It proposes to scale back the "amusement aspect" of the park because it has "been proved outmoded." Its diversification and expanded use of Playland  will include a new 10-acre "great lawn," 9.5 acres of new multi-purpose athletic fields, restored Ice Casino with full-service catering operation, new 72,000 sq. ft. field house, revamped amusement area, beach area, Westchester County Children’s Museum, restaurants and cafés, and water-based activities beyond existing concessions. It plans to hire private security guards for the park.

SPI seeks a 30-year lease on county property. It will provide a $4 million upfront payment to the County, covering the first year’s debt service. SPI’s initial capital investment will be $33.5 million: $4.2 through tax-exempt bonds issued through an LDC and $4.2 million from SPI capital campaign, with the rest from private tenant operators. As for annual SPI revenues at Playland, once the initial capital program is completed and operating income and expenses stabilize, approximately $4.5 million is anticipated with annual operating expenses of approximately $2.7 million for total net operating income ("NOI") of approximately $1.8 million. After SPI bond repayment and contribution to SPI’s Capital Reserve Fund, there will be left approximately $1.2 million as annual rent payment to Westchester County, based on an NOI-sharing formula to be negotiated. Total anticipated annual revenue at Playland, all vendors included, is expected to be approximately $24.2 million.

Standard Amusements LLC is a subsidiary of Standard General LC, a New York-based private investment firm, which plans to create New Playland, a not-for-profit entity, as a lessee. The investment firm has $550 million in assets under management and presently long-term investor in Cedar Fair, the largest amusement park operator in the U.S. Standard’s plan to revitalize Playland will include a comprehensive facelift consistent with the park’s National Historic Landmark status, improved food operations with specialty meal and snack offerings, new games to cultivate intergenerational shares experience, restored and added rides plus water-themed attractions, and increased live entertainment.

There will be four new sports fields and a community lawn free for use. Standard’s also plans to retain County employees and County police for security.

New Playland comes with a $25 million financing commitment from Standard Amusements and will make the currently scheduled $5.9 million of principal payments in 2013/2014 and interest payments totaling $5.4 million in 2013-2027. In addition, New Playland would issue a long-term Note Payable of $20.3 million to Westchester County for an amount equal to the outstanding Playland related debt (interest only). Standard promises a $2 million annual marketing budget for New Playland and will remit residual cash flows to Westchester County pursuant to a 40-year lease of the park.

Central Amusements International (CAI) will work with two renowned family-run firms, Zamperla, Inc. and Antonio Zamperla S.p.A., for full design and operation of the amusement park. The CAI management team has over 150 years of experience in the amusement business, and presently operate Victorian Gardens at Wollman Rink in Central Park, Leolandia in Italy and Luna Park at Coney Island. The plan includes revamping of rides and placement of many major new rides in the amusement park. The revitalization will encompass swimming pool renovation creating an interactive water playground; mini-golf replaced with multi-level adventure style golf; South Bathhouse Restoration into a Children’s Entertainment Center to compliment the Children’s Museum; and a summer camp. The focus will be on preservation of historic rides, restoration of historic structures and infrastructure improvements.

The CAI plans call for capital investment of $26.4 million in the first five years, with annual payments to Westchester for five years ranging from $1.0 to $1.3 million a year.

The Paidia Company is a private Louisiana-based company which operates amusement parks and reinvented Cypress Gardens in Florida as Legoland Florida for the LEGO Group. Their proposal calls for a $150 million investment—with $100 million of it earmarked for construction and improvements.

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Tags: District 2-Peter Harckham District 9-Catherine Borgia Government Operations (2012-13 Term) parks Playland