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Westchester County Says It's Canceling Private Operator's Contract With Famed Rye Playland

RYE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Is there trouble in Playland? Some fear the famed park's future is once again on a roller coaster.

Three years after a deal to turn management over to a private firm, the county executive is canceling the contract, CBS2's Tony Aiello reported Monday.

Less than two weeks before the season starts, workers are adjusting rides and testing them for safety.

On the surface, all is normal at Playland Park in Rye, despite the wrench thrown into the works over the weekend.

Rye Playland
Rye Playland (Photo: CBS2)

"I believe that Playland is a jewel of a facility. I do not believe that it is a white elephant," Westchester County Executive George Latimer said.

FLASHBACKCity Of Rye Sues Westchester County Over Refusal To Share Playland Plans

Latimer, a Democrat, said he's canceling the contract with Standard Amusements, the private operator set to take over park operations later this year. The private firm promised to boost attendance and fix up the place.

"We are unhappy with the way this has all turned out; we never wanted this kind of conflict. However, we are simply not satisfied with what we have been seeing. We wanted to see the energy, excitement and drive in Standard Amusements' vision for Playland – we didn't want just a real estate deal," Latimer said in a statement Monday. "This Administration believes in Playland and its future; we are not looking to liquidate the park as a liability, as some feel. We want what is best for Playland - to see it succeed and thrive. At the heart of that assessment is whether this arrangement developed three years ago, under different decision makers and that ends County management of the park, will somehow deliver that energy and excitement. After 16 months, we believe this arrangement will not deliver a better tomorrow for Playland."

At 91 years old, Playland needs more than a facelift. The county wants to do a gut renovation, basically redo every building inside and out.

Standard Amusements said it promised to pay about 25 percent of the $140 million total, which pleased Republicans on the county board.

"To have $35 million taken off of that for the taxpayer is significant," county Legislator John Testa said.

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The Standard Amusements deal was sealed by the prior Republican administration. Latimer's team clashed with company management and questioned its spending on travel and lawyer fees.

"They were not investments in capital projects as provided in the contract, such as new rides," Westchester County Attorney John Nonna said.

The park has been on a merry-go-round of sorts with plan after plan over the last 25 years.

"I'm glad we're getting off. This was a bad merry-go-round ride, and the county needs to move forward and take care of that park and exhibit better stewardship and we couldn't do that while we were mired in this agreement," said Deirdre Curran of the group "Friends of Playland."

Latimer promises a fresh review of Playland's future, and is not ruling out involving a private firm in its operations.

In response to the county's decision, Standard Amusement issued the following statement:

"This decision by the county executive is deeply disappointing and devastatingly false. Standard Amusements' perfectly valid conduct was never controversial under the prior administration, and this move is nothing more than a means to improperly terminate a 30-year contract that was twice approved by super majorities of the Westchester Board of Legislators. It exposes taxpayers to hundreds of millions of dollars in losses from Playland's extensive capital needs and needless litigation. The administration has been negotiating in bad faith and, despite numerous requests, Mr. Latimer has been unwilling to meet with Standard Amusements since November 2018.

"This course of action also directs attention away from the County's complete mishandling of food safety, failure to secure the wooden Dragon Coaster, and lack of proper fire suppression technology at Playland.

"Standard Amusements has worked for nine years and spent more than $10 million on its mission to save Playland. Despite Mr. Latimer's mismanagement and complete disregard for visitor safety, Standard Amusements remains more committed than ever to restoring Playland to its former glory.

"By this action, the County Executive has chosen the worst path possible for Westchester County taxpayers, Playland, and Standard Amusements."


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