Playland Faces Uncertain Future
Budget cuts may decide the fate of Westchester's Playland.
Closing Westchester County's historic but money-losing Playland amusement park would save taxpayers $2 million next year and has to be considered in coming up with a 2012 budget, the county executive said Thursday.
County Executive Rob Astorino said such a move would be "drastic'' and he was not yet recommending it.
But he warned that the county could face a $100 million deficit in 2012 and vowed he would not raise taxes to cover any of it. He said something has to be done to stanch the losses at Playland.
"We will make sure that the errors of the past and the ways of the past will not continue at Playland because it is hemorrhaging money and it's just not acceptable to the taxpayers,'' Astorino said.
Playland, a National Historic Landmark in Rye on Long Island Sound, is about 25 miles north of midtown Manhattan. It opened in 1928 and was featured in the 1988 Tom Hanks film "Big.'' Among its famous old rides are the wooden "Dragon'' roller coaster and a high-speed carousel. It's the nation's largest government-owned amusement park.
Astorino, a Republican, said attendance this year declined to 420,000 from last year's 500,000 and 1 million in 2000.
A budget proposal to close the amusement park would have to be approved by the Democrat-dominated county Legislature.
Democrat Judy Myers, whose district includes the park, said, "I don't see a time when we wouldn't have an amusement park there. There's too much there that's beloved and historical.''
Astorino said, "I understand Playland is not just a business decision. It's an emotional decision. It's very much a part of Westchester's history. ... But unfortunately there are a lot of residents in Westchester who are not going to Playland, and as such the taxpayers are propping up nonresidents who come into an amusement park that's losing a lot of money.''
He said the area would always be a park, and non-amusement areas such as the boardwalk, the beach and a bird sanctuary would not be affected by closing the amusement-ride section.
Astorino spoke as he was presented a report from a citizens' committee that reviewed developers' proposals for "reinventing'' Playland Park. The citizens found that three proposals, all of which include some form of amusement park, deserved the most attention. One was from the company that is redeveloping Coney Island.
Astorino said the next phase of the study is for an examination of the developers to see if they have the "wherewithal'' to carry out any contract they might get from the county. He said he hoped to make a final recommendation by early 2012.
Last month, 15 people were arrested in a scuffle at Playland that started when Muslim women were told that a ban on "headgear'' meant they couldn't go on some rides while wearing religious head scarves.
The county executive emphasized that closing the amusement park was just an option so far, and that even if it was closed for 2012 it could reopen later. He said he hoped eventually to be known as "the man who saved Playland.''