Faster And Cheaper, Trump Finishes NYC Ice Rink
NEW YORK — Score one for the Trumpster.
Back in June, when the city’s bungled, six-year effort to renovate the Wollman Ice-Skating Rink in Central Park was $12 million over budget with no end in sight, real-estate tycoon Donald Trump stepped forward.
Just give the project to me, he said, and I'll finish the rink by Christmas. This Christmas. And for free.
"I have total confidence that we will be able to do it," Trump said at the time. “I am going on record as saying that I will not be embarrassed."
Yesterday morning, in a gala ceremony down in the sunken, tree-shrouded gulch just off Central Park South, Trump unveiled his completed rink - the ‘'largest man-made skating rink in the world," glistening with a mirror- perfect sheath of virgin ice.
He was two months ahead of schedule, and $750,000 under budget.
"This serves as an example of what New York, the wealthiest city in the world, can do in terms of saving money - if things are done right," an exuberant Trump said. “If we could just plan and execute, it would be billions and billions of dollars that would be saved."
Even the weather gods cooperate with Donald Trump. Yesterday’s chilly, aquamarine morning was perfect for the occasion, the first day of the season that made ice-skating seem like a pretty good idea.
Skating champions Dick Button and Aja Zanova-Steindler were the first to test the rink. Button did a few graceful turns on the massive rink and declared the ice “velvet."
The near-circular skating area, built in 1951, was closed in 1980 for repairs, but the project quickly fell behind schedule. By the spring of this year, with a bankrupt general contractor and an expensive, experimental refrigeration system that didn’t work, Wollman rink was left to rot.
Parks officials announced they were back at “square one," and predicted it would take another year-and-a-half to complete the renovations.
That’s when Trump came forward.
The completed complex, near the southeast corner of the park, includes a red-brick concession stand and a rental building wrapping around the slightly sunken rink's north end, and a massive brick-and-concrete patio overlooking the ice.
The highest towers along Central Park South are just visible over the edge of the surrounding tree line.
Trump and New York Parks Commissioner Henry Stern said the rink would be open to the public in about two weeks, giving Trump time to finish work on the concessions building and for thousands of new, rental skates to be shipped to the site.
Under the agreement, Trump will operate the rink for one year, donating any profits to a "mutually agreed charity." He announced yesterday that the Ice Capades organization had been hired to handle the day-to-day operation.
Trump said he "knew very little about ice rinks" when he stepped into the project, but was tired of hearing about the botched city efforts and "wanted to get it open."
He is rehabilitating a huge building on nearby Central Park South into luxury condominiums. The view from many of the more expensive units is of Wollman rink - which before Trump’s efforts had been a rusty, concrete scar on the park's southern perimeter.
"We completed two months ahead of schedule and that's a little change of pace and a nice thing to hear for a lot of New Yorkers," Trump said. "We pushed very hard. We had very good men . . . and it was something we really
put a lot of oomph into.”
City officials said Trump was able to finish the project so quickly because he’s a private developer, not encumbered by city regulations governing public construction projects.
Trump attributed his success to the inclusion of “really tough penalties" against contractors who fell behind schedule - penalties that would have put them out of business.
Under his agreement with the city, Trump paid for the entire renovation out of his own pocket, with the understanding that he'd be reimbursed upon completion up to an agreed-upon limit. The finished rink came in at $1.95 million, Trump said, which was $750,000 below the limit.
Button also announced yesterday that the rink would host an invitation-only fund-raising gala Nov. 22, featuring such Olympic champions as Peggy Fleming, Scott Hamilton and Dorothy Hamill.
"We did a job here and we put a lot of guts into it and we're proud of it," Trump said.