In an effort to “advance constructive discussion about the future of Playland Park,” New Rochelle Mayor and Democratic County Executive candidate Noam Bramson sent an open letter this morning to Republican Rob Astorino. In the letter, which is available in full on this page, Bramson posed three essential questions to the Astorino administration. The questions are:
1) When will the County conduct and complete an expert analysis of the financial and operational assumptions within the Playland proposals?
2) By what date does Rob Astorino project that Playland will become financially self-sustaining and no longer dependent upon assistance from taxpayers?
3) What is the optimal number of annual visits to Playland Park that the County aims to achieve?
“I would hope the County Executive could quickly and clearly answer these three simple questions,” added Bramson. “This information will enable Westchester residents – and our elected representatives – to make informed decisions about the best path forward for Playland.”
July 29, 2013
The Honorable Rob Astorino
900 Michaelian Building
148 Martine Avenue
White Plains, NY 10601
Dear Mr. Astorino,
I am writing to advance a constructive discussion about the future of Playland Park, one of our region’s most valuable public assets. Considering the historic and practical importance of Playland to people throughout Westchester, it is essential for the County to demonstrate the highest standards of professionalism in its review of proposals and to articulate clear goals for the Park’s future.
The active involvement of community groups, volunteers, amusement park operators, and investors is a healthy and positive indicator of public interest in Playland, and the recent partnership announced by your office may yet prove to be a promising road forward.
Unfortunately, neither decision-makers in County Government nor the general public have been provided with the information and analysis necessary to make intelligent choices or to safeguard County residents and taxpayers. Rather than organizing photo ops in an election year, I believe it is incumbent upon your office to answer questions about the agreements you have announced. Three such questions are especially important and deserving of a public response:
1) When will the County conduct and complete an expert analysis of the financial and operational assumptions within the Playland proposals? Such an analysis must be conducted by experienced professionals who are independent of the teams that have submitted proposals and should include, at a minimum, a detailed examination of business terms, financing sources, attendance assumptions, capital costs, and other factors that impacts public expenses, benefits and risks. It is remarkable that no such analysis has occurred to date, a failure that compromises the integrity of the review process and creates needless and unfair delay for applicants. Such independent analysis should also evaluate, for comparative purposes, enhanced administration of the Park under continued public management. When considering major development in New Rochelle, we have generally required developers to place funds in escrow, so that the City can retain consulting assistance. The County should consider a similar model for Playland, so that outside, professional, expert assistance can be secured at no cost to taxpayers.
2) By what date do you project that Playland will become financially self-sustaining and no longer dependent upon assistance from taxpayers? You have repeatedly stated that ending public subsidies for Playland is among your primary goals in the redevelopment process, and you and your administration have consistently included debt service in your calculations of Playland’s annual losses; indeed, debt service represents the overwhelming share of such losses. If an end to public subsidies is no longer your goal and standard, then you should say so forthrightly. If it is, then you should indicate how and when the goal will be achieved under the terms of the agreement announced last week.
3) What is the optimal number of annual visits to Playland Park that the County aims to achieve? The County has yet to establish a clear attendance target for Playland. It is vital to define this fundamental standard of success in order to evaluate the merit of any proposal, judge the adequacy of parking facilities during both average and peak attendance periods, and test financial projections and marketing plans. Attendance goals should have been among the first items defined by your administration at the outset of this process, and it is past time for a target to be set.
I applaud the teams that have invested time, energy, creativity and financial resources in advancing concepts for Playland’s future. They have done their jobs, but the County has yet to perform its own due diligence. If your Administration addresses these questions with professionalism, competence and transparency, then Playland can become a model of cooperative action. If, however, your Administration does not, then Playland’s future, the interests of Westchester residents, and the efforts of the groups that have submitted proposals will all be placed at great risk.
I look forward to your public response.
Mayor, New Rochelle