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This Sunday, Westchester County Executive George Latimer announced via press release that he has terminated the county’s agreement with Standard Amusements, the company chosen in 2016 to manage the historic but floundering park.
“The County has been negotiating with Standard Amusements in good faith,” Latimer says, “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.”
Standard Amusements, LLC. — under Harrison resident/hedge fund manager Nicholas Singer — was one of three finalists considered in 2013, when the county first put out requests for proposals to manage Playland. The administration of former county executive Rob Astorino eventually chose to pass on Standard Amusements in favor of a Sustainable Playland Inc., a deal which itself fell through amid years of legal challenges.
After further attempted solutions, including attempts to bolster the park’s sports facilities and bringing in the eye of Bryant Park redeveloper Dan Biederman, Standard Amusements came in to manage the park and ante up with an initial investment offer of $30 million. Lawsuits continued as Rye locals fought for greater control in negotiations surrounding park management and taxation, until finally being dismissed in 2017, though this was not the end of difficulties.
Read More: Rye’s Playland Lawsuit Dismissed by State Supreme Court
The current county administration under executive Latimer has negotiated to restructure the initial agreement with Standard Amusements. Now, Mr. Latimer says, “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 county now alleges that Standard Amusements has refused to cooperate or supply documents necessary for an annual audit, and “improperly claimed millions of dollars as part of its contractually defined Manager’s Investment obligation, which is supposed to represent capital improvements at Playland.” As of December 2018, $5.7 million has reportedly been spent on salaries, meals, travel, advertisements and marketing, consultation fees, and legal fees — including those to raise capital the company already claimed to have had. The county claims an additional $2 million has been spent so far this year, bringing the total up to $7.7 million. These allegations, the county asserts, constitute a breach of contract sufficient to terminate the deal.
“This agreement has Westchester taxpayers on the hook for $125 million dollars with Standard committed for $27.5 million,” the county executive says. “My job is to make sure Westchester taxpayers come first. The County’s relationship with Standard Amusements must come to a close.” The announcement by Latimer constitutes 30-days notice of termination of the agreement, meaning Standard Amusements will cease management of Playland on May 28, 2019.
Reached for comment, Standard Amusements called the county executive’s announcement and assertions “deeply disappointing and devastatingly false,” citing the past administration’s acceptance of the company’s methods and claiming the allegations as a bold-faced attempt to “improperly terminate a thirty years contract that was twice approved by super majorities of the Westchester Board of Legislators.”
Standard Amusements asserts its commitment to restoring Playland and says, “This course of action also directs attention away from the County’s complete mishandling of food safety, failure to secure the wooden Dragon Coaster, and lack of proper fire suppression technology at Playland.”
In a twelve-page letter obtained by Westchester Magazine and dated January 31, 2019, Quinn Emanuel partner Daniel L. Brockett on behalf of Standard Amusements wrote to inform County Executive Latimer and the Westchester County Board of Legislators of several instances — including food and fire safety — in which the county was already allegedly in breach of contract. The letter further alleges an unwillingness on executive Latimer’s part to uphold the agreement or even communicate with Standard Amusements since the late fall of 2018. It closes by naming Westchester County in a state of default, asserting Standard Amusement is within its own rights to terminate the agreement.
Standard Amusements reserves the right to “seek full compensation from the county for all damages.”
Several prominent Westchester County Republicans have responded with concern to the executive’s announcement. Outgoing Minority Leader John Testa says, “I am disappointed but not surprised that the administration has taken this ill-advised action.” He adds, “For months, the County Administration has said that they would negotiate in good faith with Standard Amusements to address the issues they had with the existing contract. It seems the opposite was true.”
Minority Whip Gordon Burrows is calling on county legislators to demand an explanation and reasoning for Mr. Latimer’s announcement. “With the exception of vague statements deriding the agreement, the Board of Legislators has been kept in the dark about what the administrations concerns are or what if any plans the administration has for Playland moving forward.”