$250M Legoland Project in Play in Orange County
John Jordan | November 2015
GOSHEN—Representatives of Legoland have confirmed that after being turned away by the Village of Haverstraw last month to build a $250-million Legoland Amusement Park there, the company is considering Orange County as a possible site.
Orange County officials have been successful in attempting to persuade the developers of a $250-million Legoland–themed amusement park not to abandon the Hudson Valley after being rebuffed last month by the Town of Haverstraw in Rockland County to build the complex at the Letchworth Village property in Haverstraw and Stony Point.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and Orange County Partnership President Maureen Halahan told Real Estate In-Depth that the county has shown Merlin Entertainments—the company proposing the Legoland park—suitable sites in Orange County where the project could be housed. Neuhaus went so far recently as to ask county residents to submit short videos of support for the project to the county that would be forwarded to Merlin to help attract the amusement park.
Julie Estrada, media relations manager for Legoland California Resort and Legoland Florida Resort, released a statement to Real Estate In-Depth, which stated: “I can tell you that Merlin Entertainments remains interested in building a third LEGOLAND Park in North America and is currently reviewing several viable options on the east coast. Orange County remains an option.”
“Orange County has a reputation of being pro-business and getting the job done. That was illustrated last year when six different communities in the County made proposals to land a casino. We didn’t get the casino, but it proved that many of our communities can attract the attention of big-time projects,” said Orange County Executive Neuhaus. “Orange County has some locations that would make a great venue for Legoland, which would be another major economic draw for Orange County.”
Orange County Partnership’s Halahan said, “Orange County is aggressively pursuing Legoland recognizing this type of tourism-destination type project will bring millions of dollars to the county and the region. The County Executive and several Town Supervisors have shown a great deal of interest.”
Halahan said officials representing Legoland recently went on a tour with officials from the Orange County Partnership and County Executive Neuhaus. Three Legoland representatives went on a tour bus and visited a total of eight possible sites for the project, including most of the failed proposed casino project properties. Others that attended the tour were Aimee Vargas, representing Gov. Cuomo’s office, Realtor RJ Smith who represented some of the possible project sites, as well as Ed Harrison, manager of Stewart International Airport.
Halahan said the sites were located in New Windsor, Central Valley, Blooming Grove, the central part of the county and the Town of Wallkill. She said the county has tentatively scheduled another meeting with Legoland representatives sometime this month.
She said that Legoland desires a parcel of between 125 to 150 acres. Halahan responded when asked if Legoland was interested in possibly pursing a project in Orange County, she said, “very much so.” Halahan would not divulge the specific properties or how many meet Legoland’s size requirement.
County Executive Neuhaus said the site tour with Legoland went very well and he is hopeful the county can lure Legoland to Orange County. “I think we are definitely in play and I think it is down to Orange County and another location in New Jersey. All of the other places in New York from what we understand right now are out of the running and it is between us and New Jersey. The stakes are pretty high and I know New York State is very hot to trot to make this happen.”
Merlin officials had proposed to build the Legoland park that would include an amusement park, waterpark and a hotel at the 175-acre Letchworth Village site in Haverstraw and Stony Point. However, after the project, which had not been officially presented to the village, drew some local criticism, the Town Board and Town Supervisor Howard Phillips released a statement that the village would no longer consider the project.
The statement released on Oct. 15th stated, “After hearing the concerns of our residents, we have decided to withdraw our consideration of the Legoland project. While we will continue our efforts to bring new projects to our town in order to provide quality of life amenities and help defray rising costs associated with living in Rockland County, it should never come at the cost of creating hardship or stress for our residents and divide our community. Balancing these interests is the goal of the Board and leads us to this decision. As always, we thank all the residents for their input.”
Although the project had not come up for review, it was a priority project for the Hudson Valley region and New York State. In late 2015 New York State announced that the project was awarded $3.1 million in state grants in connection with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Consolidated Funding Application competition. The project was designated as the Mid-Hudson region’s number one priority project during the 2014 CFA competition.
Shortly after the decision by Haverstraw to turn the project away from consideration, Merlin Entertainment released a statement to the Journal News, which stated: “We continue to believe Haverstraw would be a viable option for the theme park that focuses on families with young children and would benefit the community by providing more than 1,000 new jobs, increasing tourism and generating significant financial benefits for the area. Our studies show the flow of traffic would not only be manageable, but arguably an improvement for the community as a result of upgrades provided from the project.”
Reaction from the business community to the Town of Haverstraw’s decision was harsh. Al Samuels, president of the Rockland Business Association told Real Estate In-Depth, said, “This is a very unfortunate situation that is quite frankly is a victim of the tyranny of the minority.”
Samuels said that the Town Board, responding to neighborhood criticism of the project, pulled the project from consideration even before the applicant had a chance to formally present its plans and dispel some of the misinformation that had been disseminated by opponents of the venture, including considerable planned infrastructure work to mitigate traffic, wastewater and water usage concerns.
Samuels said the decision by the Town Board of Haverstraw will eliminate the 600 new construction jobs that were to be created by the Legoland amusement park project. “That is a damn shame,” he said. Upon completion, the project would have also created approximately 1,000 net new jobs, Samuels added. Those jobs are sorely needed in many communities in the area.
He then related that in light of the rejections of Legoland and the earlier United Water desalination project and the debate over New Energy’s $600-million waste to energy plant in Stony Point, “I worry about the world of economic development’s toward Haverstraw and North Rockland and if they are going to continue to look at them as a venue for relocation.”
Officials with Empire State Development’s Mid-Hudson region could not be reached for comment on whether the state will now look to meet with Merlin Entertainments in an effort to keep the project in New York State. However, other knowledgeable sources tell Real Estate In-Depth that the state is working to keep the project in New York State and the Hudson Valley.