Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and the local nonprofit he's tapped to take over Rye Playland said they expect to sign a contract at the end of January, paving the way for the nonprofit to begin work at the beloved public amusement park this summer.
But as the Republican county executive and Sustainable Playland negotiate the terms of the contract, the Board of Legislators continues to meet with other companies who say they could run the park more profitably.
On Tuesday, representatives from Legoland Development told county lawmakers that they would be willing to invest as much as $200 million in Playland -- around $166 million more than Sustainable Playland -- in a 50-year redevelopment plan that would radically alter the character of the 1920's-era park on Long Island Sound, giving it a Lego theme.
"We've been interested in the U.S. East Coast for a long time," said John Ussher, general manager of Legoland Development, which operates amusement parks around the world, including in California and Florida.
Legoland broke ground for a much smaller Legoland Discovery Center at Ridge Hill in Yonkers in October; the 32,000-square-foot facility is set to open in March 2013.
The meeting between Ussher and legislators in White Plains highlights how prospects for Playland remain uncertain even as Astorino claims the park's future will be solidified once he signs a contract with Sustainable Playland.
Democrats met with Ussher because they question whether Astorino has the authority to allow a private group to operate Playland. Arguing that the board must approve any deal Astorino reaches, since last month they've met with four companies who answered a request for proposals Astorino released two years ago to redevelop the park, including Sustainable Playland, the winner of that competition.
Additionally, questions remain over how Sustainable Playland or another company will renovate Playland while the county also needs to repair around $12 million in damages to the park from Hurricane Sandy.
And it's not clear how Sustainable Playland would coexist with the Westchester Children's Museum which will be leasing a former bathhouse on the property. Astorino vetoed the lease to the museum, but Democrats and Republicans on the board overrode his veto unanimously.
Even Sustainable Playland spokesman Geoffrey Thompson admitted that the nonprofit and county officials had a lot of work to do before they finalized an agreement. "You can't deny the obvious," he said. "There are a lot of issues in play here."
But he added that both parties were committed to conclude a deal for the sake of Playland, which is expected to lose $1.6 million this year. "With each month that slips by, you lose time for being able to set up for the 2013 season," Thompson said.
Founded by Westchester County residents, Sustainable Playland would invest $33.5 million in the park via a handful of subcontractors who would manage different components of the park -- amusement rides, restaurants and other attractions.
Democrats have raised questions about where the nonprofit would find financing. The group also was embarrassed in October when its president, Dhruv Narain, stepped down, after news reports that he owed around $233,000 in property taxes to the City of Rye.
Astorino, meanwhile, is ignoring the board's proceedings. The county executive claimed the management agreement he's pursuing with the nonprofit would be legally binding. "This process is over," said Ned McCormack, the county executive's communications director. "We have a winner here."
The chairwoman of the committee that's been holding the hearings with redevelopers, Legis. Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), said she couldn't comment on the county's contract with Sustainable Playland before it's finalized. But she said the board couldn't be overlooked.
"There has to be a philosophical discussion, I think, between the Legislature and the administration about what's the best option going forward," said Borgia. "We are going to have to come to some meeting of the minds."
The board has also met with Standard Amusements, which would invest $25 million in the park, as well as Central Amusements, whose representatives last week said they would spend $26.4 million on new rides and refurbishments.
But those meetings might have been for naught.
The county and Sustainable Playland are already working on coordinating federal funding to repair the damage from superstorm Sandy to the boardwalk and various buildings, McCormack said. "When we build this, we'll build it better and more equipped for the future," he said. "That's just common sense."
They are also close to determining whether they should keep the park's north boardwalk, which was destroyed in the storm, or not rebuild it.
Thompson said Sustainable Playland and the children's museum were also having fruitful talks about working with each other. "We're now viewing the Children's Museum as part of what is going to be at Playland," he said. "It's not something we're opposed to."
Sustainable Playland is now considering where to begin its overhaul, Thompson said. If large-scale construction proves impossible before the park opens in May, the nonprofit could at least landscape near the park's entrance with an eye to restoring its early 20th century grandeur, he said.
"We could start doing other work, extensive planting, beautification to bring it back to the way it was in the 1920s," he said.