A public hearing was held Monday night regarding the future of PlaylandThe latest news on Rye Playland
About 100 people attended a public forum Monday night to share disparate views about what Playland should become—from maintaining it as an amusement park to making it a sustainable space that allows for educational and recreational uses.
The forum took place as part of a regular meeting for Rye’s Playland Strategic Planning Committee, a city committee that is hoping to have input in Westchester County’s future plans for the government-owned park.
Sustainable Playland, a newly-formed non-profit organization spearheaded by Rye residents Dhruv Narain, his wife Sandhya Subbarao, and Peter Rukeyser, presented its concept plan for the future of Playland at Monday’s meeting.
Subbarao said the group’s goal is a community-based response to the county’s request for proposals (RFP). The county issued the RFP last year to solicit opinions about what to do with the park, which reportedly loses $5 to 6 million annually.
Subbarao said the group would like to see a plan for Playland that includes recreational and educational uses and arts and cultural facilities. The group also may advocate maintaining some iconic elements of the amusement park, such as the Dragon Coaster and ferris wheel.
“It’s time for us to take a stewardship role in managing our public resources,” she said.
The group’s plan emphasized sustainability, more green and open space, and increased public access to the Long Island Sound shoreline. It hopes Playland will exemplify a public-private partnership in the same vein as Central Park in New York City.
Douglas McKean, another member of the group and a well-known architect who was involved in restoration of Grand Central, said Sustainable Playland’s plan also makes room for the Westchester Children’s Museum, which could open in late 2011 if county legislators approve its lease at Playland’s historic bathhouses.
McKean, a third generation Rye resident who grew up blocks from the park, said “there’s been a lot of kicking the can down the road” in regards to Playland. McKean did his 1979 master’s thesis on the reinvention of Playland, creating a plan that retained the park’s historic buildings while also being mindful of environmental and wildlife issues. He said the county hasn’t created a model to utilize the park to its fullest potential.
While Sustainable Playland had support from many who attended Monday’s meeting, several other people argued that the group shouldn’t just promote “sustainability for sustainability’s sake.” Others also argued the group should avoid the appearance of being elitist, because what happens at Playland will affect residents throughout the county, not just in Rye. Some also said that economics should play a role in future plans because Playland is the largest source of jobs for the county’s youth.
“We need to focus on the best use of this land for the county. I don’t think the amusement aspect satisfies that requirement,” said Rye resident Joanne Fairchild.
Carolyn Cunningham, a former City Council member, said that Playland should be preserved as a public park.
“This is the most important piece of open space along the Long Island Sound. Playland is absolutely one of the most important features of Rye,” Cunningham said, “Public parkland is the highest and best use” for the park, she added.
Many said they did not want to see a 30-story office tower or other commercial development such as a casino or condo complex at the park. However, some said economic factors such as job creation should be a key consideration. The park employs 1,200 people throughout the year, according to Charles Dorn, chair of the Playland Strategic Planning Committee.
“Playland means a lot to kids who find summer employment there and that goes back into the local economy,” said Rye resident Brooke Packard.
Heather Patterson, an artist who held the first annual Boardwalk Arts and Music Festival at Playland, argued that the park should be preserved in its current form. She said the county has done little to properly market the park and ensure that it makes money.
She said Playland needs to model itself after Disneyland, and she encouraged people to think of ways to generate revenue without changing Playland.
“This park is such a nostalgic thing for so many people—not just Rye people, but all over the county and the world,” she said.
Rye resident Anne McCarthy said that people have falsely bought into the county’s notion that public parks should make money. She said many Rye residents are calling for the preservation of the park and renovation of the pools, so that the community can better utilize Playland.
“We’ve all bought the theory that Playland is a financial burden. It’s not,” she said. “There are people in Rye who want to see the park preserved for county use.”
Some people at Monday’s meeting agreed with McCarthy, disputing the idea that the park even loses the $5-6 million annually the county claims it does. County Legislator Judy Myers said Playland and the County Center are the only two county entities that have to account for debt in their operating budgets, so that debt accounts for part of annual losses. Playland currently has more than $3.5 million in debt reflected on its balance sheets.
However, at $27 million, Playland currently has a huge economic impact on the county, drawing visitors that spend money at businesses in and around Rye. Myers said Playland makes more revenue than any park in Westchester County, but it also costs more money to run the park than it generates in revenue.
She said the majority of the 17-member Westchester County Board of Legislators would like to keep the park as a public resource for all county residents, and that it would be very difficult for a huge commercial development to be built at Playland because it would require county and state approval. Myers said public input from Rye residents will weigh heavily in discussions about the future of the park.
“What Rye wants is going to drive a great deal of decision-making,” she said.
The county’s RFP process ends on March 10. It has not given a timeline for when it will choose a particular proposal, but Dorn, the committee chair, suggested the process could take at least six months.
Sustainable Playland said it plans to submit a proposal to the county, and if it is accepted the group plans to work with both public and private entities to implement and fund the project.
McKean said the group’s plans for Playland are not “Rye-centric” and that economic sustainability and maintaining jobs are important to the organization. Sustainable Playland said it will cost $150,000 to respond to the county’s RFP because it has to hire consultants to put together a credible proposal. It is tentatively planning to hold a fundraiser on March 4 and will hold a walkthrough of the park on Jan. 22 to show residents what it envisions for Playland.
“Our plan is to reinvent the park in a fiscally responsible way,” Dreyseker said.
At the Feb. 9 City Council meeting, the Playland Strategic Planning Committee will present a broad overview of what the community would like to see happen at Playland.
At its March 2 meeting, the City Council will pass a resolution that includes both public and city input about future plans for the park. The city will then submit a list of recommendations to the county based on the resolution.