Legoland concept raises questions about tax gains, traffic

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

Photo of Legoland ride in Florida. Locals leaders are currently evaluating feasibility of bringing the theme park to Letchworth Village, while developers are seeking tens of millions in incentives from state Photo credit: State of Florida
Photo of Legoland ride in Florida. Locals leaders are currently evaluating feasibility of bringing the theme park to Letchworth Village, while developers are seeking tens of millions in incentives from state
Photo credit: State of Florida

HAVERSTRAW – A potential amusement and water park proposed for the 175-acre Letchworth Village property in Haverstraw and Stony Point has raised questions among local officials regarding tax gains and traffic liabilities.

Two weeks ago the state, through the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Council, announced that it was interested in awarding a grant to a potential Legoland theme park at Letchworth Village in the Town of Haverstraw. It was listed as a local priority on their grant wish list.

However, initial talks held between town officials and developer Merlin Entertainments four months ago indicate Merlin is most interested in leasing the property, an option which would leave ownership of the parcel in local hands. Consequently, Merlin’s tax burden would likely be dependent upon revenue generated and the value of rides and amenities, according to Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips.

The possible tax revenues for the town, school district and county are unknowns at this very preliminary stage, Haverstraw officials told the Rockland County Times. Town Finance Director Michael J. Gamboli noted that the town leases the Haverstraw Marina property on Beach Rd. and the business proprietors on the property worked out payment-in-lieu of tax (PILOT) agreements with local taxing jurisdictions.

Phillips stressed Merlin would still have a local tax burden and could still serve an important revenue source. Supervisor Phillips added that much of the project is contingent upon the ability for the state to supply needed funds, a big question given the financially-tight situation in Albany. According to him, Legoland is seeking about $50 million in incentives.

“We’re not in the driver’s seat,” Phillips said. “Really the state is.”

The project remains in a preliminary phase. Following the initial talks and the submission of an offer and counteroffer for the property, the Town of Haverstraw hired consultants who specialize in amusement park planning to evaluate the proposal and make recommendations.

Stony Point Town Supervisor Geoffrey Finn, who attended the talks with Phillips, agreed tax obligations would need to be determined at a later point in the process. However, Finn stressed that the first priority was determining the feasibility of fitting theme park traffic in the area.

“Our number one concern here is traffic,” Finn explained. “We all want rateables and we all think its a good idea if it works, but there have to be studies done with traffic and whether or not we can handle six to seven thousand cars a day…I will go on the record stating that if all the studies are done and they find that Legoland can be built without any large impact on traffic or the environment then I will support it 100 percent.”

Stony Point Councilman Tom Basile added, “While a theme park of this size could aid the Stony Point in attracting developers for our portion of the Letchworth property, significant questions remain about the impact of the theme park on the residents, traffic, and nearby schools.”

Letchworth is adjacent to both North Rockland High School and Fieldstone Secondary School. If a working plan can be established to accommodate both school and theme park traffic, Finn stated the business would be a “great asset” and could potentially bring a thousand seasonal jobs and 200 full-time jobs to North Rockland.

Such a plan would likely require changes to local roads, including the Palisades Interstate Parkway. Phillips added that any road alterations would have to go through the town’s Planning Board process and include an environmental impact study.

Major improvements to the Parkway would require cooperation from the state. Hence, Phillips was quick to emphasize it was important for the Town not to set expectations too high at such a sensitive point in the process.

“We are being very cautious moving forward,” Phillips said.

If the Haverstraw concept is not realized, Finn alluded to the possibility of working with Orange County and New York State to locate the Legoland park at the current site of the Anthony Wayne Recreational Area, which straddles the border of Rockland and Orange County. No such proposal is on the table yet.

Finn said he did not expect the Town of Stony Point to realize any direct revenues from a potential Legoland theme park in Haverstraw, nor any compensation for increased use of Stony Point road, but said such a park would make Stony Point’s Letchworth property marketable to hotels. He also questioned whether a lease arrangement would realize tax revenues for North Rockland School District.

Further details on state assistance and funding are expected in the fall when the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council will announce the recipients of $750 million in economic development funds. The Legoland proposal is one of 12 projects in the Lower Hudson Valley submitted for consideration.