In a ceremony that ended with Lego mascots, children, journalists and business executives stepping around hundreds of balloons dropped from the ceiling, Merlin Entertainments PLC on Oct. 25 announced it was moving forward with its Legoland New York project in Goshen.
“Legoland New York will be Merlin’s biggest-ever single investment,” said Nick Varney, the CEO of Merlin Entertainments, the British-based, American-owned developer of Legoland.
“What it is a reflection of is our confidence in this location, which we think is perfect,” Varney said. “It lies right in the heart of Lego’s biggest market anywhere in the world.”
He was, of course, referring to the New York City metropolitan region. But Merlin officials have said the Orange County location will also be a draw for visitors in other major Northeast cities such as Boston and Philadelphia. Legoland New York will be just the third park of its kind in North America, with the other two Legolands in California and Florida. Merlin Entertainments also owns Legoland Discovery Center Westchester, an indoor family entertainment center at Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers.
The $350 million project will create a 153-acre amusement park on a 523-acre plot of undeveloped land off Route 17 in Goshen. Plans calls for a 250-room hotel and more than 50 rides, shows and attractions for children ages 2 through 12.
The Goshen Planning Board approved the project unanimously earlier in October. The park is expected to open in 2020, the company said.
Merlin Entertainments celebrated that approval on Oct. 25 at Palacio Catering and Conference Center on Route 17M in Goshen. The event featured a group of school-age “Legoland supporters” high-fiving and posing for photos with Lego brand mascots that included Lego Batman and a Lego Statue of Liberty. Following remarks by Varney, two of those young supporters dropped Lego bricks from construction vehicles while Legoland employees released 1,500 balloons from the ceiling.
It was a jubilant event following a contentious 16-month review process. The project had been challenged in court and faced opposition from a grassroots group, Concerned Citizens of the Hudson Valley.
The group has said the project would dramatically alter the town of about 14,000, drawing extra traffic while harming the town’s resources and the environment.
Members of the group recently filed a petition with the town that would require a referendum before Goshen sells about 9 acres worth of scattered land parcels to Merlin Entertainments for the theme park. The matter is being heard in state court.
In 2014, Merlin proposed the Legoland theme park in Haverstraw in Rockland County, but the town board backed away from the project a year later after strong opposition from residents.
Merlin Entertainments projects the park will attract 10,000 to 20,000 daily visitors during peak season and millions annually. The park is expected to create 500 full-time jobs and 800 part-time jobs once it opens. The park was first proposed in June 2016.
“Our aim is to be the best neighbor we possibly can be,” Varney said.
The Orange County IDA approved a 20-year PILOT agreement for the project worth $87 million that will go to the town of Goshen, Goshen Central School District and Orange County. The company estimates it will generate about $283 million over the next 30 years in sales and hotel occupancy taxes.
The potential jobs and tourism dollars gained the project the support of the state. Merlin has been awarded more than $6 million in state funds through New York’s Consolidated Funding Application process and is one of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council’s priority projects.