GOSHEN—The Town Board of Goshen convened on June 14 at the Orange County Emergency Services Center to hear representatives of Merlin Entertainments PLC present their case for a LEGOLAND resort park.
The auditorium was packed with an estimated 500 to 600 interested observers. People stood several rows deep in the back, and overflowed into the atrium, and outside. Cars and people poured in well into the hearing.
John Ussher, senior divisional director of LEGOLAND Development, presented the company’s plan to the Board. The company has 523 acres “under control” and will take 153 acres through the planning and environmental review (SEQR) process.
A wooded buffer of 2,000 feet will set the park from the Arcadia Hills development, and the wetlands will also buffer the park from the local community, he said. On the nursing home side will be a 600 foot buffer. The parking lot will have 1,000 feet of green space to Arcadia Hills.
The average daily attendance will be 10,000 and in the peak season during July and August attendance will be about 20,000 visitors a day. The park opens around April 1 and closes at the end of October. “We are closed for basically six months a year,” Ussher said.
A 250-room themed hotel will be open all year, with a reduced occupancy during the winter months, Ussher said.
The hotel will have spaces for corporate meetings. “It’s really interesting for adults,” Ussher said. “We have big bins of Legos. It’s interesting to see adults at these big meetings playing with Legos.”
In season, the resort park is open from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in shoulder seasons, the period between peak and off-peak seasons. The parking lot will have a capacity of 5,000 cars and will hold an expected 3,500 vehicles a day. Each car is expected to average three to four passengers.
In its five-year development plan, the company intends to invest $500 million into the site. Ussher told the board that “if everything were to fall into place” the park could open in 2019.
Opening year attendance is expected to be between 1.5 and 2 million visitors. The company intends to heavily market to the New York City metropolitan area.
The company’s experience at other parks reveals that one-third of park visitors are tourists, one-third are day trippers (a two-hour drive away), and one-third are locals.
About 800 construction jobs will be needed in the initial build, most of which will be local and paid according to a prevailing wage agreement.
The park will hire about 300 people for part-time positions, increasing to 500 during peak season.
The site is expected to have 500 full-time jobs. Ussher calls LEGOLAND New York a “mini-city.” Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, management, retail, food staff, and marketing staff will work at the park.
“We have a lot of different job opportunities, all of which we would hope to fill locally,” Ussher said.
The company has listened to concerns, especially over noise and traffic and whether the park fits in with the character of the community. “We want to make sure that we mitigate and solve these issues to make sure the community is happy,” Ussher said.
Ussher showed images of what people could see from the road at LEGOLAND California and LEGOLAND Florida. “If the community is not happy or if our guests are not happy with the traffic situation, that doesn’t help us. We want to make sure these problems are resolved.”
Ussher said more noise will come from the highway than from the park, and he said this will come out during the SEQR process. “There will not be any adverse noise on the neighborhood,” he said. “We don’t do fireworks. We don’t do concerts. We are closed by 8:00 at night.”
An abundance of trees and green space will help to mitigate noise, Ussher said.
The neighborhood won’t be able to see inside the park. Ussher said someone passing by might see the back of some buildings which will be painted what he calls “go away gray” or “go away green” to blend in with the landscape.
The neighborhood will not see any signs like “a McDonalds high up in the air.” The park will open only during the day, and lighting is kept only for what is needed for safety concerns.
Administrative, service areas, and warehousing will be along the highway side of the park. The service road into the park will be four lanes in and three lanes going out to main roads. Ussher said this allows the park to stack 500 cars off main roads before they even get into the parking lot.
Ussher noted that traffic into the park goes the opposite direction of daily rush hour traffic. the park opens at 9:00 a.m. after the start of the school day. He said traffic engineers noted there is no need to upgrade Route 17 or upgrade the local bridge because of LEGOLAND.
“What we want is to ensure that the people get off the highway as quickly as possible, get off local roads, and get into our park,” Ussher said. “We believe this plan will more than adequately serve people getting on and off the park.”
The company asked for water and sewer services from the Village of Goshen. Ussher said that several wells on the site will be available for residents’ use in Arcadia Hills, which experienced several recent years of drought.
The company will ask Orange County and the state to pay for and develop offsite roads and infrastructure. Legoland officials want the state or county to install right hand turns and widen some roads leading directly to the park, especially along Harriman Road. “Without these, LEGOLAND can’t open,” Ussher said.
To start construction of the park, the company needs planning and zoning approvals from the town. At the county and state levels, the company asked for project incentives in the line of grants and tax abatements.
It received an Empire State grant in 2015 and will ask for another one. It will also ask for an Orange County Industrial Development Agency grant for construction, a sales tax grant, and a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) as the project progresses.
Merlin Entertainments will host an open house on July 7 in Goshen. They will give a condensed version of the town board presentation several times. Since this is Lego, after all, there will be a Lego model of the envisioned park and other parks. Company officials will be available to answer questions and concerns.
Ussher said the company uses a system which has been successful in developing other LEGOLAND parks and resorts.
“We don’t just find the sites—we design, develop, and operate the parks. We start from talking to local governments, then we acquire or lease the land. We talk to various municipalities about incentives and we take it through rezoning, then we design and build the site.”
He said they’ve only just started with LEGOLAND New York.
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