New York City’s attempts to divorce itself from Donald Trump have turned into a comedy of errors — one that could end up sticking taxpayers with a not-so-funny $30 million bill.
After the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, Mayor de Blasio vowed to rid the city of Trump. Aiming to become a hero to progressives, on Jan. 13 the mayor said he would yank the Trump Organization’s longtime concession contracts to operate the historic Central Park carousel, Wollman and Lasker skating rinks in the park, and the Trump Ferry Point Golf Course in The Bronx.
“This president has committed an unlawful act, he has disgraced himself, he will no longer profit from his relationship with New York City,” de Blasio told reporters. The city then moved to strip the Central Park contracts from Trump even though they would have expired that spring anyway.
The campaign went south right from the start. The effort to boot Trump would have shuttered the two skating rinks six weeks early, creating an outcry from skaters about the premature end to the season. City Hall then reversed course and allowed the contract to run out instead.
The city picked new rink operators, a joint venture among Newark, NJ-based Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which owns the New Jersey Devils NHL team, and developers Related Companies and Equinox, in July. They promptly raised the rates. A family of four now pays $109 to enter, rent skates and secure a locker rather than $95 under Trump.
Meanwhile, with no one to run the carousel, the ride remained at a standstill for all of summer 2021, with the city only tapping Central Amusement International, the company that operates Coney Island’s Luna Park, to run it for five years in late July. The attraction finally reopened Oct. 16.
Looming much larger than skating fees or lost merry-go-rounds is the state court battle over the debacle created by trying to evict Trump from the Bronx golf course.
The Trump Organization claims in its lawsuit opposing the termination that it is entitled to more than $30 million in reimbursements if ejected. And de Blasio is so focused on anti-Trump vengeance that the city might pay it, despite Comptroller Scott Stringer crying foul and requesting a pause in the rushed process.
“I’m just learning of this and have to look at that and find out exactly what this is about,” Eric Adams, the mayoral-race frontrunner, told The Post regarding the city possibly being on the hook for tens of millions.
Built on a former garbage dump that closed in the early 1960s, it took 14 years to develop Trump Ferry Point, which opened in 2015 as the city’s newest public golf course — but only because then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg asked Trump to take over construction and management. It cost a reported $269 million to build. Trump added a 20,000-foot clubhouse in 2018 he claims cost $10 million.
The city’s February termination notice for Trump’s Ferry Point contract, which still had 13 years to run, stated it was “because the Trump brand is now synonymous with an insurrection against the federal government” and can no longer attract tournaments.
But legal papers note no tournament was ever promised in the contract, just a “tournament quality course.”
In recent state Supreme Court filings, the city doubled down and told the judge that if it can’t terminate “for cause” based on the Capitol insurrection, it would use the boilerplate “at will” clause.
That clause comes with a “highly unusual” termination payment, Trump’s attorney told the Post, roughly calculated in June at more than $30 million, based on a complicated formula in the contract. “They really have spared no expense and they take pride in those properties,” Trump lawyer Kenneth Caruso said of the Trump Organization’s care of the course.
The city, however, claims that amount is “contrary to Parks’ accounting thus far.”
“I invested many millions of dollars, all cash, in this project in order to get it done, which I did, starting from scratch, in record time,” Trump complained recently in his Save America PAC statement.
“Now under Mayor De Blasio, he wants to CONFISCATE the project from me for no reason whatsoever and terminate my long-term arrangement with the city.
His son Eric Trump, piled on: “New York is being overrun by crime and homelessness, and people are fleeing in record numbers, yet this mayor’s focus is using $30 million of taxpayer money to settle political scores.”
The clubhouse boosts revenue with public dining and events like weddings and private parties year round, even when the links are closed to “rest” the grass and plantings. That, they say, is to ensure it retains famed golfer and course designer Jack Nicklaus company’s stamp of approval, as required by his city contract. Yet the next operator plans to have golfers on the greens year round.
The course is used by many in the community as well as Bronx organizations, some of whom spoke passionately at a city Franchise and Concession Review Committee hearing earlier this month, worried that the quality would drop under a new operator, and that more than 150 jobs would be lost.
The panel nevertheless moved ahead with plans to hand the course to a new Georgia-based operator, under a 13-year deal, starting in November. The 4-2 vote to approve the switch came despite the objections from residents, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Stringer.
The Georgia company initially tapped to take over, Ferry Point Links LLC, had teamed up with the head of a local homeless-services provider. Then news website The City and the Post revealed in September he was in trouble for self-dealing.
De Blasio first defended Jack Brown, who made $869,000 in 2019 as the chief executive of CORE Services Group, the shelter provider, but the report showed he had a checkered record of toying with services for the homeless, halfway houses and other non-profits.
Only then was he booted off both CORE and the golf contract, and a new entity, Affiniti Ferry Point LLC, was hastily replaced in the public notices.
In a blistering rebuke, Stringer deemed the process a “troubling pattern” by the Parks Department of a “rushed award of a concession agreement,” leaving his agency unable to determine “if the selection of the concessionaire is in the best interests of the city.”
Diaz Jr. said, “One of our greatest concerns remains the uncertain future of the current operator’s employees, many of whom are Bronxites.”
In a statement, Bobby Jones Links, the Georgia-based group that would actually operate the course under the new agreement, said it intends to continue with “the elevated service levels and playing conditions at Ferry Point.” It also stated it would “reduce prices up to 10%” and “employ citizens from every walk of life.” But its city pact requires a $4 surcharge for every round played.
It also appears that in ousting the former president, the city will leave lots of money on the table.
So far in 2021, the acclaimed Trump course has hosted 25,220 rounds of golf and far grossed more than $8.2 million — double what was made during the pandemic shutdowns in 2020 and $1 million more than in 2018 — and the course expected to reach $10 million by the end of the year.
Now in the seventh year of the agreement, Trump’s base rent rises each year and has percentage rent bumps higher than those in the Bobby Jones agreement. The Post roughly calculated that if revenue rose 5 percent each year, Trump would pay the city $16.2 million through 2035 while Bobby Jones would only fork over $13.9 million — a loss of approximately $2.35 million to the city. If Trump later wins in court, the city will pay Bobby Jones $900,000 for “improvements,” like stripping the words “Trump Links” from the grounds.
Another wrinkle in de Blasio’s battle to boot Trump is that Ferry Point boasts legendary golfer Nicklaus’ “Signature Design,” a feature that attracts players from all over the world.
What kind of financial hit would the city take from international golfers should both Trump and the Golden Bear’s names be stripped off the course?
The city has apparently ignored its agreement with Nicklaus’ company, which gives it a “veto” over who operates the course.
In another example of the de Blasio administration and Park Department’s head-in-the-sand-trap attitudes, Nicklaus Companies CEO John Reese said in an Oct. 12 letter to the committee, “We have no desire to become entangled in city politics; however, we are unhappy with the prospect of having The Trump Organization summarily removed,” adding that Park Commissioner Mitchell Silver never responded to a Feb. 16 letter.