Monday, April 23, 2012

More Than 250 Attend Sustainable Playland Fundraiser at Coveleigh Club

More than 250 people turned out Saturday night for Sustainable Playland Inc.’s 2012 annual fundraiser held at the Coveleigh Club. The group came to show their support and learn more about the plan that proposes to reinvent the struggling Westchester County-owned park.

Dan Biederman, a pioneer in the field of privately funded urban and public space management, spoke to the audience about the Sustainable Playland plan. Biederman is the co-founder of Grand Central Partnership, 34th Street Partnership, and Bryant Park Corporation, and three Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) operating in midtown Manhattan.

Sustainable Playland also unveiled a 10-minute video that provided audience members with an understanding of the history of the iconic park, its current woes, and the SPI vision that promises to make the park sustainable.

The Sustainable Playland plan is one of three finalists recommended by an advisory committee selected by Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino's office.  The plan takes a holistic approach to create a year-round destination that will unlock the full recreational, environmental and entertainment value of Playland while respecting the historical integrity of the Park.

Dan Biederman speaks to audience during the SPI fundraiser.
The SPI plan includes year-round activities such as an improved ice casino, indoor and outdoor athletic fields, a reduced amusement area that focuses on the historically designated rides such as the famed Dragon Coaster, a great lawn fronting on Long Island Sound and a far more environmentally sustainable approach to the entire 100-acre park.  The public-private partnership approach is built along the lines of the Central park Conservancy and  top operators have been lined up to work with SPI under the direction of one of the nation’s most highly regarded park management companies.

The SPI plan offers a return to the founding concept of an elegant park with amusement rides, not an amusement park.  The approach is “sustainable” financially, environmentally and programmatically and gets the government out of the amusement park operating business.

You can learn more about the Sustainable Playland plan by visiting

Thursday, September 22, 2011

SPI moves to round 3

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

     SPI would like to thank the Citizens Review Committee for their commitment and diligence in putting together the report on the feasibility of the proposals submitted for the re-invention of Playland Park and the County Executive's office for enabling a bold process that was long overdue, to allow for the re-definition, refinement and relevance of a signature County park.

     The Committee Report states that SPI's proposal together with Zamperla and Central Amusements (both Amusement Park focused models that would maintain the status quo) proposals meet the feasibility criteria outlined by the County and deserve further attention. The rest of the proposals have some potential role but may not fit within the feasibility criteria and scope of the RFP or do not merit further consideration.
With this decision, SPI has now moved into Phase 3 of the RFP review process during which the County will vet all proposals based on their legal and financial feasibility and will culminate with Phase 4 in which the County Executive will outline the direction that will be taken.

     SPI's research indicates that all the proposals that were submitted had elements that were pertinent and contained important suggestions for consideration. It is our intent to do a thorough analysis of them all in refining SPI's proposal in the months ahead and we salute all our competitors for their ideas and proposed solutions for a mutual problem faced by all County residents.

     Above all Sustainable Playland, Inc. is proud of what we have achieved and delighted that the voice of concerned Westchester residents that were proactive in pursuing a community-based, non-profit solution was recognized by the Committee. We believe that the financial contribution made by each and everyone of our many County-wide supporters allowed us to produce a high-quality proposal. Despite not having a large corporation's access to resources our small Executive Board of Trustees was able to work with the best consultants and a distinguished Advisory Board to put together a document that was exhaustive, exceptionally detailed, worthy of the time and money spent by us all and worthy of our combined values.

    In an election year with all County Legislative seats being contested, we will see much posturing and politicing but it is our sincere wish that our politicians and the various constituencies of Playland Park can come together to preserve our heritage and leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

FYI: Press Release put out by the County on its website today

The process of "Reinventing Playland Park for the 21st Century" advanced to the next phase today, as County Executive Robert P. Astorino formally received a report from the citizens committee that he appointed to examine the feasibility of 12 proposals for the park.    Last year, Astorino launched his four-phase reinventing Playland initiative by asking for ideas on how to ensure the long-term viability of the county-owned park in Rye, whose amusement portion has been a chronic drain on taxpayers, with losses of $3 million to $5 million a year. The first step was to initiate an RFP (request for proposals) process, which resulted in the receipt of submissions from 12 groups in March.
With the proposals in hand, Astorino then, as step two, appointed a citizens committee, whose members included a broad cross-section of business leaders, elected officials and residents from across the county, to evaluate the feasibility of the proposals. The group was asked to evaluate all of the proposals against a set of criteria that were labeled the "5 E's" – economics, environment, entertainment, experience and expectations.
In its report made public today, the citizens committee did not make a recommendation on a specific plan or vendor.
"There is no simple 'silver bullet' solution to the future of Playland Park and no such solution emerged during the Committee's review," the report stated. "A host of significant, longstanding structural obstacles must be overcome as part of any realistic plan for ensuring the long-term viability of the park."
What the citizens committee did do was group all 12 proposals into three categories: responsive to the evaluation criteria and deserving further attention; some potential; and proposals they believed were not feasible or meriting further review; and suggested that "there may be value to combining some elements of the 12 RFPs or other concepts into a 'hybrid' plan for the park."
Committee Chairman Jim Chisolm said he was extremely proud of the work done by the group and thanked Astorino for the opportunity to let citizens get involved early in the process.
"Our job was not to decide the future of Playland," said Chisolm. "It was to provide a citizens perspective to the process as a way of helping the county make the best decision possible for the future of the park. What we found along the way was that the issues surrounding Playland are extremely complicated and defy simple answers. That said, we believe opportunities exist to enhance the park's future and that the best way for that to happen is for the county to avoid any attempts at quick fixes but to continue its deliberative and long-term approach."
Astorino thanked the committee for its hard work and said that the process now moves to the third phase: further analysis by the county's legal, financial and parks teams, who have access to confidential proprietary information about the companies, which under the terms of the RFP process was not available to the citizens committee. Those findings would then be added to the citizens committee report and go to Astorino for the fourth phase – a determination by the county executive on how to proceed. The options here could include moving forward with one proposal, or some combination of the proposals, or rejecting all proposals and starting over. That determination is expected by early 2012.
"The job given to the committee members was not an easy one, but they certainly rose to the occasion," Astorino said. "The findings are thoughtful and go to the heart of the problem, which is that the issues are complex and need clear and creative thinking to solve. We know the old answers won't work. And now we know new answers won't just magically appear. But the commitment remains the same – to put this property to the best use for the residents of Westchester County."
Westchester County currently owns and operates the park – one of only a handful of governmental bodies to be in the amusement park business. With attendance steadily dropping over the past five years – from 1 million in 2005 to 494,000 in 2010 – park ownership has translated into greater taxpayer subsidies. The losses are as much as $5 million annually, including both operating losses and debt.
Chisholm in his cover note to the report detailed the challenges of the task the committee was given.
"It should be stated up front that committee members found the assignment more difficult than initially anticipated," he said. "There are no shortages of opinions on the topic of what to do about Playland, and this has been true for as long as anyone can remember. But what most members of the public don't realize is that when you start to look closely at the history of Playland and its future, there is a complex thicket of highly significant though not immediately visible issues, such as parkland alienation, capital financing, debt obligations, and existing labor and vendor contracts that must be addressed as part of any meaningful solution."
The report goes on to say: "At this critical juncture in Playland's history, the Committee believes opportunities exist and the county should avoid piecemeal, quick-fix solutions and continue its deliberate, comprehensive, and long-term approach to building the park's future. Though time consuming, additional financial, legal, environmental, and marketing analyses will be necessary before the best possible outcome for the park's future can be determined."
Since 1928, the focal point of the property has been the amusement park, which today has 50 major rides and attractions. The prototype of today's modern theme parks, Playland was the country's first totally planned amusement park. Seven of its rides and several of its art deco buildings are designated as National Historic Landmarks.
The RFP covered approximately 100 acres of the larger 280-acre Playland property. A critical feature is that its focus goes beyond the historic amusement park. Scenic vistas and a beautiful beach on Long Island Sound, an Olympic-size swimming pool, an extensive waterfront boardwalk, fishing piers, boating lake, dining and picnic areas, a proposed children's museum, and an indoor ice skating rink, as well as the amusement park, can all be utilized, or not, in the plans submitted by developers.
Here is a summary of the groupings by vendor (in alphabetical order) determined by the citizens committee:
Category I: Proposals believed to fit RFP responsiveness and feasibility criteria and deserve further attention
  • Central Amusements International, LLC (CAI Parks)
  • Standard Amusements, LLC
  • Sustainable Playland
Category II: Proposals that may have some potential role but may not fit within the feasibility criteria and scope of the RFP
  • American Skating Entertainment Centers, LLC (ASEC)
  • Q Properties
  • State Fair Group
Category III: Proposals that do not meet the criteria of responsiveness to the RFP and do not merit further review or are not feasible
  • Air Structures American Technology, Inc. (ASATI)
  • Boardwalk Arts
  • JMC Marketing – Village of Westchester
  • TPC Rye, LLC
  • Valentine Creative Marketing
The specific 5 E's criteria to address feasibility were the following:
  • Economics – Does the proposal offer a financially viable long-term business model? While the county does not expect to make a profit at the park, the current fiscal situation cannot continue.
  • Environment – Is the proposal appropriate to local surroundings, area zoning and the environment?
  • Entertainment – Is the proposal consistent with the purpose of a park?
  • Experience – Can the county feel confident about the proposer's track record with respect to finances, customer service, safety and deadlines?
  • Expectations – Is the proposal realistic?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rob Astorino's address to Westchester County

Taken from Full broadcaast of County Executive's State of the County Speech is available on New12

Astorino said the county’s management focus for the year ahead would be for every commissioner and department head to relentlessly question whether the services they were delivering were essential, effective, and provided by those best positioned to deliver them.
“We start by rejecting the notion that less money has to mean less service, and we replace old thinking with new actions,” Astorino said. “The answer is not another government program. A big part of our problem is that we can’t afford the overhead of all of our existing programs, especially now when the state and federal governments are pulling back on their contributions. Future focus needs to be on self reliance and existing resources. That requires a new operating model energized by efficiency, common interests, new ideas and partnership.”


The County Executive's speech was compelling. Based on his assertions, SPI would like to ask you whether you believe that the Department of Parks and Recreation should be in the business of running an amusement park? Do you think that it is effective and best positioned to deliver these services?

The Question is not whether an amusement park should exist at Playland but whether it should managed and operated by the County. The County had commissioned study after study at tax-payer expense to consider the challenges facing Playland Park in previous years and the consultants always recommended a bigger picture perspective (see 2006 Master Plan) but a very narrow interpretation was  always taken focusing on the amusement park only at the expense of all other aspects of Playland. Playland Park is a jewel not only because of its amusement rides but also because of its place in history with its proximity to the shoreline and diversity of entertainment options. The County Executive is right in saying that the park needs to be considered in a holistic fashion, but it remains to be seen whether there is the political will to give up control in the management of its affairs.

SPI maintains that in these economic times, we all need to work together as a community, regardless of political bias/affiliation. We all need to step up to do the right thing for our children and future generations.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Join Sustainable Playland

When people think of Westchester, they think of Playland! 
The "memory-maker", Playland is to Westchester like Central Park is to New York City. Sustainable Playland welcomes the opportunity to work with you to restore Playland's luster in the public realm.

March 4th Fundraiser at Coveleigh Club, Rye, NY - Ticket Price $125 in advance, $175 at the door.
Join us for cocktails and a short presentation by the consultants retained by SPI who will share their insight on the significance of SPI's mission and other comparable projects and their effort to position SPI's proposal for success