Court Dismisses Rye Playland Lawsuit; $60M Public-Private Partnership Begins

John Jordan | March 2017

WHITE PLAINS—In what Westchester County officials describe as an “across the board victory,” New York State Supreme Court Justice Gretchen Walsh has dismissed the City of Rye’s court case against Westchester County’s plans to revitalize the storied Rye Playland amusement park.

County officials stated on Tuesday (March 21) that the ruling allows the county to move forward with its planned $60-million public-private partnership with Standard Amusements to make significant improvements at Rye Playland.

“This ruling means the county can get back to the business of saving Playland,” said Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino. “The definitive nature of the judge’s decision shows the county’s agreement with Standard Amusements is in full compliance with the law and protects the interests of all county residents. The legal challenge has been brought, the court has rejected it, and now it is time to refocus on the important work ahead—revitalizing the park and placing it on a firm financial foundation for the future.”

Nicholas Singer, a partner of Standard Amusements, said, “Playland is an integral part of the fabric of Westchester County, and our goal from the start has been to ensure Playland continues to entertain the community for generations to come. We are pleased with this ruling as it enables Standard Amusements, in collaboration with the county, to move forward on our plans to upgrade the grounds in support of our mission.”

Last May, Astorino, Standard Amusements and the Board of Legislators reached agreement on a plan to pump more than $60 million into Playland— $30 million from Standard Amusements, which carries with it the right to operate the park for 30 years, and $30 million from the county to pay for 11 capital projects on the property. The partnership agreement calls for the county to retain ownership of the 100-acre property. Those planned capital projects will involve rides, gaming and concession improvements, as well as shoreline rehabilitation.

However, the initiative grinded to a halt when in August the City of Rye filed an Article 78 proceeding, claiming that the county’s agreement with Standard Amusements violated the state’s Environmental Quality Review Act or SEQRA. Rye’s case revolved around the assertion that it should have been given lead agency status on any improvements by virtue of the fact that the park was located within city borders even though it was owned by the county, Westchester County officials stated.

“Playland Park has been in continuous operation, serving the interests of the citizens of Westchester County and other visitors since 1928 – i.e., 14 years before the city came into existence,” Judge Walsh wrote in her ruling “Petitioners have not identified any state law pursuant to which the city has express authority to permit, approve or regulate the [County] Board’s use of Playland Park, much less any of the projects contemplated in the 2016 Restated Agreement.”

Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz said of the court ruling, “The Board of Legislators, the County Executive’s office and Standard Amusements have been very inclusive and responsive to the concerns of all stakeholders during this process. The results of this lawsuit demonstrate that it is far better to negotiate than to litigate,” he said. “As always, the Board of Legislators will work with the City of Rye to make sure that Playland continues to be a good neighbor and a source of great enjoyment for decades to come.”

Playland is set to open on May 13 for its 89th season under county operation. The court decision paves the way for Standard Amusements to take over operations for the 2018 season.

Standard Amusement’s $30 million investment will go toward revitalizing Playland with new rides and attractions, as well as upgrading food choices, picnic areas, and restaurants and renovating grounds and buildings.

The 30-year management agreement provides that Standard Amusements will pay the county $2.25 million; invest $27.75 million of its money within five years into refurbishing the park; and make annual payments to the county starting at $300,000 and escalating 2% a year. Once Standard Amusements has recouped its initial investment, the county will participate in a sliding-scale profit sharing agreement.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth