Legoland Looks to Develop $500M Theme Park in Goshen
John Jordan | September 2016
GOSHEN—While Orange County drew snake eyes in its quest to land a casino resort last year, the county is now on the cusp of landing a $500-milion theme park geared to a much different demographic.
Merlin Entertainments plc, the owner and operator of the proposed LEGOLAND New York resort and theme park, filed plans with the Town of Goshen in June for its $500-million theme park to be built on property bordering Route 17. The proposal for the LEGOLAND New York resort includes a theme park with more than 50 rides, shows and attractions and a 250-room LEGOLAND Hotel. The theme park will be geared toward families with children ages two to 12.
Merlin officials had proposed to build the Legoland park at the 175-acre Letchworth Village site in Haverstraw and Stony Point in Rockland County. However, after the project, which had not been officially presented to the town, drew some local criticism, the Haverstraw Town Board and Town Supervisor Howard Phillips released a statement last October that it would no longer consider the project. Shortly thereafter, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and the Orange County Partnership, along with officials from Empire State Development, began talks with Merlin Entertainment to develop the theme park in Orange County.
Merlin Entertainments made its first presentation of its LEGOLAND New York theme park on June 14th to the Goshen Town Board and hundreds of local residents, politicians and members of the building trades. Merlin is seeking a zone change from the Town of Goshen on 153 acres of the 523 acres it controls on a parcel that abuts Route 17 along Harriman Road between exits 124 and 125. Merlin had considered sites all along the East Coast. Merlin was also mulling properties in New Jersey and Virginia before deciding on pursuing the property off Harriman Road.
On Aug. 9, the project cleared a major hurdle when the Village of Goshen Board of Trustees passed a resolution to provide water and sewer service to the proposed LEGOLAND New York theme park. Based on anticipated usage, LEGOLAND New York will pay the village approximately $900,000 per year once the deal is finalized. Merlin has also promised to donate two wells to the adjoining Acadia Hills neighborhood.
In an exclusive interview with Real Estate In-Depth, Phil Royle, head of community & project relations for LEGOLAND New York, discussed how the firm selected Goshen for its theme park and how it hopes to secure approvals so that work could begin sometime next year on the development.
Royle said that Legoland conducted a site search of locations throughout the Northeast for some time before its site team selected Goshen. He said the more than 500-acre parcel is “highly suitable” for the theme park. In addition, the company was impressed with the work behind the scenes by the Orange County Partnership, the Orange County Executive, and the Chambers of Commerce to bring new business to the area.
“We knew that if we selected Goshen and decided to work with Goshen that we would have all those people who are very, very pro-business trying to bring new business to the area,” he said.
He offered high praise to Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and the Orange County Partnership in communicating with the company Orange County’s interest in the project and in identifying the Goshen property.
Royle said that like its other Legoland parks, the company believes that the theme park can fit into the area. In that vein, he said that the theme park will be designed as a “park within a park” and will not be visible from the outside.
He said the main reason the theme park is designed that way is to “hide it from the children.” Royle related, “When you are driving along the freeway and you have screaming kids in the car and they are getting excited, you want to surprise them.”
While some local opposition has surfaced concerning potential environmental impacts and traffic volume on Route 17, Royle said that for the most part his firm has been pleased with the support it has received from the community, business groups and local building trades.
“We have been very fortunate and have received a lot of public support, and we have a lot of grass root supporters who have gone off and printed their own T-shirts and banners and signs,” Royle said. “And yes, there is a small amount of opposition and there are questions that they have, but there have been a lot more people that are sitting on the fence.”
He said that Merlin has been “incredibly transparent” and has staged public meetings and also hosted a very well attended Open House to better inform residents about the project.
To those who are still “sitting on the fence,” Royle said, “You don’t have to believe what I say. Look on Trip Advisor, look on You Tube, look on the Internet and review what our customers are saying about our Florida and California theme parks and talk to local businesses and local real estate agents and let them tell you what a good neighbor and what a good business we are to have in the community.”
The third Legoland Park in North America in Goshen would mirror the successful concept of the six operating resorts in Florida, California, the United Kingdom, Germany, Malaysia and Denmark. However, unlike most of its other theme parks, LEGOLAND New York as presently designed would not include a water park.
The main issues being put forth at the moment by opponents of the project are water usage and traffic impact. Royle, when asked by Real Estate In-Depth if he believes those concerns can be addressed in the environmental review of the proposal, responded, “Absolutely, we are fully confident that we can address both of those issues.”
He cited the recent agreement with the Village of Goshen to supply water to the project. He also noted that Merlin is working with the New York State Department of Transportation and others to address traffic impacts the project might have. Merlin, Empire State Development and NYSDOT are also in talks regarding costs of those traffic mitigation measures and improvements to Route 17 interchanges and accessory roads leading to the theme park.
“Any theme park has to rely on excellent customer service,” Royle stressed. “If it doesn’t deliver excellent customer service then people aren’t going to come back. If my guests sit in traffic trying to get to my theme park and have screaming kids in the car in the background, they will not spend lots of money and they certainly will not return. It is not in my best interest at all to operate a theme park where I haven’t taken practical measures of getting vehicles into that theme park quick enough.”
One traffic mitigation measure planned at the Goshen theme park in the hopes of alleviating traffic bottlenecks on Route 17 will be that customers will not be subject to parking fees upon entrance, but rather upon leaving the theme park. “That puts pressure on us as a theme park to get people onto the roads rather than getting people off the roads,” he added.
The developer will initially invest $350 million in the development of the park and a total of more than $500 million over the first five years of the theme park and resort. Merlin is looking to secure a total of $10 million in incentives from the State of New York. A spokesperson for Empire State Development said that $4.1 million in state funding has been committed thus far to the Legoland project, none of which has been disbursed. It is believed that Legoland has applied for additional state funding this year through the state’s Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) process.
Royle said that Merlin hopes to secure approvals by the first quarter of 2017 and would then bring the project to the Merlin Board of Directors for final approval. Construction would begin shortly thereafter. The developer hopes to open the LEGOLAND New York theme park in Goshen in early 2019.