Although the elephant in the amusement park on May 6 was the county’s cancellation of its contract for Standard Amusements to take over operation of the Playland amusement park in Rye, George Latimer stood at the entrance to Playland’s kiddie park and delivered a message of commitment.
“We’ll find out soon enough who’s going to be running the park in 2020, but for right now it’s our duty and obligation to run it in 2019,” the Westchester county executive told a news conference.
Latimer had called the conference to announce myriad new events and features for the season, with the opening day of May 11 rapidly approaching. For example: each Westchester municipality will have a special day at the park where its residents will receive parking, food and ride discounts and free beach or pool admission; laser light shows will take place twice nightly from June 8 to Sept. 2; there will be 11 music concerts, a 60% increase from last year; and a Playland Museum to showcase the 91-year-old park’s history will be opened.
Latimer was joined by representatives of ArtsWestchester and the Westchester Parks Foundation in announcing plans for art displays on the property. The Parks Foundation will be providing funding.
“This administration is committed to Playland. We intend to make sure that Playland runs not just safely and effectively, but also with a level of energy and vitality that has been missing at this park for the last 10 years,” Latimer said. “We have created a self-fulfilling prophecy (low expectations) in Westchester by not putting the level of energy and intensity into this park, separate and distinct from the amount of money that we may invest in the park.” He promised a level of marketing “that we have not seen here at least in a decade.”
Latimer defended Playland against a story in the New York Post on May 4 that said it had obtained inspection reports from 2017 and 2018 alleging problems with food storage and rodents. The 2018 report had been prepared by an inspector hired by Standard Amusements, according to the newspaper.
“The park is safe, has been safe and will be safe,” Latimer declared. He invited reporters and photographers to return to the park on May 9 to accompany various health and safety inspectors as they make their pre-opening examinations.
When asked by the Business Journal whether part of his intent with the news conference was to undercut the idea that Playland must have a private operator in order to be successful, Latimer said that the county could run it and pick up professional assistance as needed.
“As an example, when you do advertising to promote the park, you go to a professional advertising firm to put together professional marketing. You don’t expect that you’ll have that advertising executive in-house,” he said.
Latimer said there is now a partnership with WFUV radio to help identify musical talent to book at the park. “Our government is committed to the park,” he said. “We’re also committed to the kind of partnerships in the private sector that will help make this park better.
“To the extent that the message has been that the county government can’t do it, I would say ‘no’,” he continued. “The county government with proper partnerships can do it.”
Latimer hesitated to make a prediction for the new season’s attendance, noting that they’d likely consider last year’s 450,000 guests as the baseline.
“If I said we intend to exceed it by 10% or 20%, it would be a number I’d pull out of thin air,” he said. “As we go through the year, we intend to add additional marketing actions and activities, different things that we don’t have on the books yet to bring people in on different days. And, if we see success in the early things we do, then we’re going to amplify it.”
Also on May 6, Standard Amusements hand-delivered to the County Board of Legislators its Draft Master Plan for Playland accompanied by a letter asking to meet and discuss the future of the amusement park. The letter made no reference to Latimer’s previous announcement that the county was canceling the contract with Standard effective May 28.