Running an amusement park has always been a labor of love for David and Ruth Hoffman. And while they still have the love, they’ve grown tired of the labor.
So says Albany County Executive Dan McCoy on the Hoffmans’ decision to close Hoffman’s Playland for good after this season. The Hoffmans set off a wave of local nostalgia last year when they announced they were hoping to retire soon and close their beloved Latham amusement park.
This week, they made it official: The park’s last weekend will be Sept. 13-14. After that, they will sell all the rides and equipment at auction and redevelop the eight acres of land on Route 9 for retail and residential purposes.
“You’ve got to have compassion and love to run a place like that,” said McCoy, who has worked with the family for the past year to try to keep open the place he used to bring his kids to each summer. “Ruth and Dave would be there on a Sunday for 12 hours making pizzas and filling in for the college kids once they went back to school. It’s been a love of theirs and I don’t think they want to see it go away, but what do you do when you can’t find someone to take it on?”
The Hoffmans did not return a call for comment Tuesday.
McCoy said he has worked closely with the family over the past year to find someone interested in buying the park. Last summer, he arranged a meeting with Six Flags Great Escape President Eric Gilbert to discuss the idea of running the Playland, but that never panned out. At one point, they were close to a deal with the operators of Guptill’s Arena, a longtime family-run roller-skating rink a few miles up the road, but that also fell through.
“We were really hoping it would work out, but at the end of the day they didn’t come to an agreement,” McCoy said. “Dave and Ruth realize the property is probably worth a lot more than what they’re operating it as, so they’ve made a conscious decision to close it and redevelop the property.”
He said there is still hope someone will come in at the last minute and buy the park. If the county weren’t already losing money on its nursing home, McCoy said he might have had hope the Playland could turn a profit as a county-run operation.
“We would love to do it, but there’s no way we could do it,” he said.
The demand for developable land in Latham and Colonie is high right now. Most of the Route 9 corridor has undergone redevelopment over the past several years and the old Latham Circle Mall is currently being renovated into the new Shoppes at Latham Circle.
Attorney Donald Zee will help the Hoffmans redevelop their site, which is next to the new Village at New Loudon mixed-use apartment and retail building.
Reaction to the possibility of the Playland closing has come from across the Capital Region and beyond. The park opened in 1952 with two rides and live ponies. Since then, it has expanded to include nearly two dozen rides, food venues, an arcade and a Subway restaurant. McCoy said he has received emails almost every day about the Playland, from old visitors who have since moved to all corners of the country.
A Facebook page, “Save Hoffman’s Playland,” was started last year and since then more than 19,000 people have liked the page. On Tuesday, news of its definite closure inspired community members to again post memories of their time at the park.
But nostalgia has been stirring all year long, with people submitting old photos of grinning children and sharing their favorite memories, like the time one woman, as a child, got stuck at the top of the Ferris wheel in the rain with her grandfather. Or the day they were tall enough to drive the bumper cars. Or ringing the bell on the boat ride. Or spotting cute kids with toothless smiles on the Jolly Caterpillar. Or howling like a ghost in the train tunnel.