The battle over management of Playland Amusement Park has gotten nastier, making a costly, lengthy legal battle more likely.
Playland is owned by Westchester County -- which in 2015 announced a $25 million deal with Standard Amusements L.L.C. to manage the amusement park.
The contract was negotiated and signed in May 2016 by then-County Executive Rob Astorino's administration. Astorino, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, was defeated by George Latimer, a Democrat from Rye, on Nov. 7, 2017.
On Sunday, April 28 of this year, County Executive Latimer announced that Westchester is canceling its contract with Standard Amusements as reported here.
"This agreement has Westchester taxpayers on the hook for $125 million dollars with Standard committed for $27.5 million," Latimer said. "My job is to make sure Westchester taxpayers come first. The County’s relationship with Standard Amusements must come to a close."
The announcement by Latimer constitutes 30 days notice of termination of the agreement. That means Standard Amusements will cease management of Playland on May 28, 2019, unless differences are resolved.
In addition to its initial investment, Standard Amusements agreed to pay Westchester County an annual fee of $300,000 in exchange for a 30-year contract. The county claims the original contract was unfairly modified in December 2017.
Latimer criticized Standard’s spending to date, which it reported to be $7.7 million, saying that figure includes salaries, travel and other expenses. Standard claimed in a company statement last week that it has offered to remove costs that concerned the administration and increase its investment. Per its contract, Standard Amusements can formally reply to the county's notice of termination, including amending financial details.
Catherine Cioffi, a spokeswoman for Latimer, issued this statement on Friday, May 10: "Standard Amusements first attacked ride safety and that was unfounded, next they attacked food safety and that was also unfounded. ... (It) shows the desperate measures that Standard Amusements will go to get their hands on this prime real estate."
"With each passing day, it becomes apparent that this isn’t about Standard wanting to 'save Playland;' there are ulterior motives at work here," the statement continued. "The County terminated the contract with them because they breached the contract and have done nothing concrete to invest in the Park despite commitments made.
"Their response is a political style attack campaign which should make people wonder 'Who really is ‘Standard’? Why do they want this park so badly they will poison the water with falsehoods about park operations? What is behind the investors and their agenda for this waterfront location?'"
Standard Amusements raised concerns about the safety of food, rides and park facilities at Playland, accusing county government of mismanagement. Latimer and other county officials dispute the warnings and reopened the park for the season on Saturday, May 11. The county released permits to show the state Labor Department inspected the rides and considers them safe. (See attached PDF.) Joan McDonald, Latimer’s director of operations, said there are no safety concerns at Playland.
Deirdre Curran of Friends of Playland supports preserving county management of the park. She's an outspoken critic of Standard Amusements. Her Facebook page posted a petition opposing private management of the county park, here. (An earlier version of the petition can be found here.)
Steve Vasko, a member of an advisory committee set up by Standard Amusements, favors a fair, open contract negotiation process. Vasko posted this petition -- on Save Rye Playland's Facebook page -- calling for "transparency in government."
Standard Amusements shared this draft master plan with legislators at their request in April. The company said the Latimer Administration attacked Standard for sharing the executive summary.
Meanwhile, the Civil Service Employees Union expressed its support for county management. About 30 county workers faced losing their Playland jobs once Standard Amusements took over management of the park -- but were promised transfers to other county parks.See Attachment