Westchester County cancels contract with new Rye Playland management company

RYE, Westchester County (WABC) -- Westchester County is canceling its contract with the company that was set to manage Rye Playland.

It comes nearly a year after county Executive George Latimer released a report criticizing the terms of the contract with Standard Amusements.

The deal was a marquee initiative of his predecessor.

Latimer gave 30 days' notice of the termination.

Latimer says his administration wants to see Playland "succeed and thrive," but he says he does not see that happening under the current arrangement.

Standard Amusements says the move improperly terminates the contract and could lead to a lawsuit, and that the administration has been negotiating in bad faith. The company called the decision "deeply disappointing and devastatingly false" and said "it exposes taxpayers to hundreds of millions of dollars in losses from Playland's extensive capital needs and needless litigation."

Latimer said the decision was made to protect taxpayers and came after an extended review and discussion of the provisions of the agreement made by the prior administration three years ago, and more recently, after extended negotiations between counsel for the county and Standard Amusements.

He said the election to terminate is based on Standard Amusements' failure to cure its various material defaults under the contract that were laid out in the county's letter to Standard Amusements on December 7, 2018.

Latimer alleges Standard Amusements has improperly claimed millions of dollars as part of its contractually defined Manager's Investment obligation, which is supposed to represent capital improvements at Playland, and that the company claimed it invested over $5.7 million in the park when an audit showed that money was spent on salaries, meals, travel, advertisements, marketing, consulting fees, and legal fees.

Full text of Latimer's statement:

"We are unhappy with the way this has all turned out. We never wanted this kind of conflict. However, we are simply not satisfied with what we have been seeing. We wanted to see the energy, excitement and drive in Standard Amusements' vision for Playland. We didn't want just a real estate deal. This Administration believes in Playland and its future; we are not looking to liquidate the park as a liability, as some feel. We want what is best for Playland - to see it succeed and thrive. At the heart of that assessment is whether this arrangement developed three years ago, under different decision makers and that ends county management of the park, will somehow deliver that energy and excitement. After 16 months, we believe this arrangement will not deliver a better tomorrow for Playland. The county has been negotiating with Standard Amusements in good faith, seeking to recast our arrangement into a different focus, one where Standard's professed commitment to the park's future would be manifest by its ability to help shape a management and marketing commitment, not primarily a capital commitment, followed by management of the park. We are unhappy that instead, we have seen leaks of false information to the press; the hiring of a high-priced public relations firm and the hiring of a legal firm committed to defending the company's corporate interests rather than spending those resources delivering a detailed marketing plan. The energy spent by Standard to influence lawmakers to defend their original agreement could have been better spent in a more wide ranging effort to win over those in the community that did not want to see a corporate entity take over a public park facility. But, at the core of the county's election to terminate isn't emotion - it is the fact that Standard Amusements is in material breach of our contract. Standard Amusements has improperly claimed that it invested money in Playland, when in reality that money was not spent on purposes allowed under the agreement. Standard Amusements is wasting taxpayer dollars at the end of the day.

"This agreement has Westchester taxpayers on the hook for $125 million dollars with Standard committed for $27.5 million. My job is to make sure Westchester taxpayers come first. The county's relationship with Standard Amusements must come to a close. We cannot have confidence in Standard Amusements based on its actions. The company has not proven it has been serious about Playland succeeding. While there have been claims by Standard Amusements that the county has been in breach of the contract, the reality is the county has performed under the agreement and done everything it reasonably could. As the county has explained to Standard Amusements, the company's interference in the design process and underestimation of the costs of capital improvements, upon which the county relied, directly caused the county not to timely meet its required level of capital investment. Furthermore, the county has never indicated to Standard Amusements that it intended not to meet its obligations under the contract. As required under the agreement, the county is giving Standard Amusements 30 days' written notice. May 28, 2019 has been selected as the date the agreement will terminate in all respects."

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