Construction of $500M Legoland Theme Park to Begin in Early 2018 Thanks to $25M From NY State

John Jordan | October 2017

GOSHEN, NY—On Oct. 25th Merlin Entertainments, the developer of the proposed LEGOLAND New York theme park here, and New York State announced their respective commitments to move the $500-million project forward.

On the one hand, Merlin Entertainments announced it will begin construction on the project in early 2018 after recently securing site plan approval from the Goshen Planning Board. In a surprise move, Empire State Development reported at the event the state was providing an additional $18 million in incentives for the project, bringing the state’s total commitment to more than $25 million for the venture.

Merlin Entertainments CEO Nick Varney announced that the firm would move forward with the project at an event held at the Palacio Catering and Conference Center in Goshen attended by hundreds of political, business and civic leaders as well as a host of children and parents from the area. The project secured site plan approval from the Town of Goshen Planning Board on Oct. 19th.

Varney said that Merlin will initially invest $350 million in the development of the park, but noted that its total investment will run approximately $500 million in the years to come. He said the company, which is headquartered in Poole, England, hopes to break ground on the project in the next six months. Phil Royle, head of community & project relations for LEGOLAND New York, said that site clearing work on the 170-acre site would likely begin earlier. Merlin expects the theme park, which will be catered to children ages 2 through 12 years of age, to be open in 2020.

LEGOLAND New York, which will be open from April 1 to November 1, will feature more than 50 rides, shows and attractions as well as a 250-room LEGOLAND Hotel. The hotel will be operational year-round.

“We have spent a lot of time building relationships in the community, listening and responding to concerns, and we are looking forward to building a theme park that will enhance the community and be a tremendous neighbor,” Varney said. “I am honored to announce LEGOLAND New York is officially moving forward.”

During the approval process, Merlin announced an extensive transportation improvement program to help alleviate Goshen residents’ concerns over traffic congestion on Route 17, particularly since the more than $1-billion Resorts World Catskills casino will be opening in March further north on Route 17 in Sullivan County. The traffic improvements by Merlin have been estimated at approximately $40 million and will include the construction of a new Exit 125, which would lead traffic directly into the theme park, as well as adjoining properties.

Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Howard Zemsky, who attended the Goshen event, announced the additional incentives to be provided by New York State. He reported that the additional incentives include $8 million through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative as well $10 million to support off-site road infrastructure improvements and traffic mitigation measures.

Those traffic improvements are to include relocating and reconstructing the exit 125 interchange on Route 17, constructing a new bridge over Route 17, widening the South Street and Route 17M intersection, upgrading Harriman Drive, extending a third, westbound lane on Route 17 between the relocated exit 125 and just east of exit 124 and upgrading traffic signals, one on Harriman Drive and the other at the intersection of South Street and Route 17M.

Zemsky said the project’s significant economic impacts warranted the granting of the additional incentives. Previously, the state had awarded LEGOLAND New York $7.1 million in incentives through the Consolidated Funding Application process. The theme park will generate a total of 1,300 full time and part time jobs in addition to 800 construction jobs during development.

LEGOLAND New York anticipates generating $283 million in sales tax and hotel occupancy tax for Orange County over a 30-year period. The Town of Goshen will receive about $71 million in revenue from the host community fee LEGOLAND New York will pay and its share of PILOT payments and tax payments.

The Orange County IDA approved a 20-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement that will provide the Town of Goshen, the Goshen Central School District and Orange County $87 million in payments and property tax revenue over the term of the deal. Annual payments will increase at 5% rate annually to reach the full-assessed value of the property in 20 years.

The project moving forward is a victory for New York State and Orange County, especially since Merlin had originally selected a site in Rockland County to build the theme park. However, the proposed development at the former Letchworth Village property in Haverstraw was met with early opposition, which led town officials in October 2015 to contact Merlin prior to the submittal of plans to let the developer know the proposal was not welcome there.

“Orange County is experiencing significant growth in both job creation and tourism,” said Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus. “From Norwegian Airlines bringing thousands of tourists to Orange County, to Woodbury Common attracting shoppers from around the globe, to the anticipated arrival of LEGOLAND, our economy continues to flourish. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to create a pro-business environment in Orange County.”

Maureen Halahan, Orange County Partnership president and CEO, said Orange County’s location was an ideal fit for the Legoland project. “This half-billion dollar investment will catapult Orange County into the international arena of most desirable tourism-destination locations, and the ripple effect is immeasurable. ”

Opponents of the Goshen project have promised to file litigation over the project’s approvals and perhaps move to force a public referendum that could impact the project. Goshen attorney Michael Sussman, who is representing the project opponents, could not be reached for comment at press time by Real Estate In-Depth.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth