Summer is (Almost) Here: What about Playland?

11 Jun, 2014

By Peter Moses

 


westchester eye


The Bronx used to be home to Freedomland, an amusement park located where Co-op City and the Bay Plaza Shopping Plaza now stand. Despite a great song and an enormous salt water wave pool, Palisades Amusement Park in Fort Lee and Cliffside Park, New Jersey, which opened in 1898, is now a bunch of high rises. They were privately owned parks and the owners of both facilities closed because the market couldn’t support them.


Things are a little different here in Westchester.


Those of us who have called the county home for most of our lives have fond memories of summer days and nights at the county’s best known fun place, Rye Playland. But that sentiment doesn’t seem to ring true today as over two-thirds of people who flock to the Dragon Coaster and other rides at the iconic playground on the shores of the Long Island Sound are not from Westchester.


But beyond the nostalgia, taxpayers subsidize the amusement park, losing anywhere from $3 to $5 million annually, according to records kept by the county, which has owned the park since its inception. Losses have been consistent for years and it has become a hot-button issue for local and area politicians. Questions abound about the future of Playland, who should operate it and what should it look like going forward.


Playland came to be because people in Rye and nearby communities were concerned about the type of people coming to the existing Rye Beach and Paradise Park facilities so the Westchester County Park Association purchased the properties and et voila, Playland was born. The Boardwalk was part of the original Art Deco design.


[selfie] Click and write your message or classified here: Reach everyone reading this article!


 [/selfie]


The park opened in May, 1928, and by the next year the anchor ride, the vaunted Dragon Coaster opened, thrilling daredevils with its 85-foot drop and twist and turns. It was actually preceded by the Kiddie Coaster which first strapped in kids in 1928. The Boardwalk was part of the original plan and the Ice Casino, which used to be home to the New York Rangers as a practice facility, flung open its doors in 1929.


The “Grand Carousel,” is considered one of the nation’s gems, a 1915 Mangels-Carmel model with 48 jumpers, 18 standers and three chariots. The entire park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.


County Executive and now Republican candidate for New York State Governor Rob Astorino, agreed to a plan crafted by a local grassroots organization called Sustainable Playland that would turn Playland into a park with fewer amusements, more parkland and a field house for lacrosse and soccer plus three other outdoor athletic fields. The Ice Casino would be refurbished and Playland would be turned into a year-round destination and extend the amusement park’s season as well.


Then came the usual noise in the form of lawsuits by members of the County Legislature and pushback from Rye Mayor Joe Sack, both demanding veto power over any changes in Playland. The County claims it has sole jurisdiction about the future of Playland. For a time, Sustainable Playland pulled out of the talks because of all the infighting but recently came back to the table.


It remains unclear what will happen in the future at one of America’s oldest amusements, home to one of only 100 wooden roller coasters. It’s clear county voters and legislators are weary about continuing to foot the bill for Playland and its future is a large question mark.


Loop readers, what say you? How would you like to see this ongoing debate resolved?


 


photo: June Marie Sobrito
Page Views: (628)


Print Friendly

Related Posts

  • Ted Carroll

    County Executive Astorino campaigned on transparency and concerning Playland specifically on contracting immediately post on obtaining an independent audit of the park’s financial results. That was 2009 and that audit was never obtained. The “losses” Mr. Astorino sites are not real – or he would have proved them with independent attestation. Like he promised in his 2008 campaign. So please – it’s June of 2014 – for the sake of clarity lets hear no more Astorino talking points about park losses being the driver for handing the keys of the park to private interests – who BTW refuse to show up for meetings to disclose their actual financial plan – and actual parking plans – for this very valuable county asset.

  • JHWBB

    Now that I have grandchildren, I looked forward to introducing them to the local Playland on the shore that my children, and I as a child, would visit. I would like very much to see this local resource, including its Art Deco architecture, perpetuated. It is not clear to me what the objections are to the Sustainable Playland plan for an expanded and financially viable Playland, although I know that my local representative to the County Board of Legislators does not support it.
    I would appreciate knowing what the issues are and if compromises can be reached.

  • Peter Moses, Author

    Mr. Vasto is right that many youths have worked there over the years. Many locals have had their first job at Playland. Insofar as losing money, other than a website called http://www.playlandwatch.org, it is universally accepted the amusement park loses millions of dollars a year.

    The reader is also right that Playland pumps money into the local economy but the question looms; at what cost? It’s an ongoing debate and one that will continue. It’s not a beach or a golf course where you know what the upkeep will be short of hurricanes or wild storms; it’s an amusement park. Upkeep is expensive and rides need constant care to remain safe. While at least one public amusement park in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is doing well and making money, Playland isn’t. Reports in area newspapers and television stations reports tell the same story. Playland is an iconic locale but one that comes with a pricetag to Westchester residents.

    • Brook Packard

      Peter, the price tag is $6.42 per family. Less than two lattes a year. There is another publicly-owned amusement park in New Hampshire which also does well. Locals tell me the County Executive (or its equivalent) is at the park regularly checking in and making sure it’s working well. Seems the fault doesn’t lie in the Playland, but with those who are supposed to be ensuring its success rather than giving it away to a bunch of vultures.

  • charmian neary

    Peter, please. You know how the news business works. Reporters who do not do investigative ORIGINAL reporting, which I thought you advocated, tend to repeat what they are told. When you write something like this: “Reports in area newspapers and television stations reports tell the same story” or this:

    “it is ‘universally accepted’ the amusement park loses millions of dollars a year.” I want to cry. Peter, didn’t you want to do a blog in the first place as a response to what is “universally accepted”? Yes, you did. Wayne Barrett and Tom Robbins would cringe if they saw a statement like that coming from a real journalist like you.

    I can send you a recent video interview from Phil Reisman with County Board Chairman Mike Kaplowitz, where Mike admits on camera that Playland does NOT “lose money”. Will you watch it if I send it?

    Can we talk before you run another blog post like this repeating the Thompson and Bender shibboleths? We met through David Singer. He’s moved on to a new passion, office sharing, and I’m happy for him. But my passion is still candid, ethical, local reporting.

    Ted Carroll below, and I, were and often are on opposite sides politically but we share an interest in the government fisc . He did his own independent analysis of the SPI debacle and switched sides. His reasons for doing so are important. If you spoke to Steve Vasko and Nick Loddo and Deirdre Curran in addition to Ted, you’d get a perspective from people who have lived with this ill-considered plan for almost 4 years now.

    Oh, and regarding Joe Sack, his is not the “usual noise”. This is a man bucking his own political party at great political cost to do the right thing for Rye—while our nominal county rep. Catherine Parker has been practicing for her future role as a bought-and-paid-for lobbyist by shilling on behalf of SPI and its deep pockets from day 1. That is the usual noise, but its the noise of whispers in hallways.

    I live in Rye. I love this park. I want to see it thrive and I do not support this ill-conceived land grab called SPI, which is as “grass-roots” as the Westchester Country Club.

  • Brook Packard

    Playland is a public park and like every other public park should not be required to make money. It is an amenity which delivers so much more to the county besides its aesthetic offerings. It only costs $6.42 per family and increases Westchester economy by over $16 million.(http://www.westchestergov.com/rfp/pdfdocs/playlandRFP/PL_RFP_MARKETING_STUDIES/PL_RFP_Economic_Study_2009.pdf) Even if it were necessary, I would wager most families would be happy to double that 6 and change and put some TLC into this iconic amusement park. For example, Playland’s marketing budget has not increased for over 15 years. As for those out of the county using Playland, that is cause for celebration. No one ever complains about out-of-towners visiting the Statue of Liberty or Yosemite.

    • JHWBB

      Totally agree. Art Deco architecture, on the Sound, varied offerings for children and families, and right here. Keep this unique community resource.