The city is looking for a new operator for the Wollman skating rink in Central Park after cutting ties with the Trump Organization in the wake of the riot and insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.
The Central Park Conservancy argues it’s the best choice for the job, having already submitted a bid last year of what they call a “$50 million minimum investment to take over management and increase public access” in anticipation of the Trump contract expiring at the end of April.
But without an agreement from the city yet, the non-profit organization is now worried that the contract will go to a commercial operator instead.
“Our proposal is a long-term solution and, we believe, a sounder financial and social alternative to the City’s approach to award a short-term contract to a commercial operator which will prioritize its own profitability over the public’s interest,” said Elizabeth Smith, President and chief executive officer of the Central Park Conservancy, in a statement this week.
A spokesperson for the Parks Department said the bid process ended March 19th and proposals are still under review.
“We received an amazing response to our competitive RFP process and there are a number of great contenders. The review process is ongoing,” said Crystal Howard of the Parks Department in a statement, adding that CPC had no prior experience operating a skating rink.
“Our goal is to have an experienced operator in place so that there is no disruption in this winter’s skating season at Wollman Rink. The most dependable way to do that is through our competitive process. If we’d gone the route of exploring a sole source agreement with the Central Park Conservancy we would have run a serious risk of not (having) skating this winter at both Wollman and Lasker rinks, not just Lasker,” Howard said.
The CPC points to its commitment to rebuilding the Lasker ice rinks and pool on the Harlem Meer as evidence Wollman Rink would be in good hands.
“As a non-profit organization managing skating at both rinks, we would be uniquely positioned to ensure that local community use is coordinated and prioritized,” Smith said in the statement. “We committed $100 million, along with $50 million from the City, to re-envision and rebuild the Lasker facility, which will break ground in the coming months, and have now offered to raise and invest at least an additional $50 million to undertake a similar effort at Wollman.” The city hasn’t responded to their proposal yet, Smith added.
The CPC’s proposal goes beyond funding, but also envisions programming during the non-skating season with “free or low-cost cultural performances from across the City,” said Ira Millstein, former Chairman and Life Trustee of the Conservancy in a March 31st letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio. He added, “I ask that you act wisely: forego profit-making in Central Park and continue to put the public first by accepting the Conservancy’s offer of continued stewardship and transformational investment.”
The very nature of the CPC is to protect Central Park, said Mary Caraccioli, chief communications officer for the conservancy.
“No commercial operator has the same mission as the Central Park Conservancy. Our core is to take care of the park, and the public that enjoys the park in perpetuity,” she said in a phone interview. “A commercial operator, by nature, will put profits first. The conservancy puts the park first.”
Before de Blasio severed city contracts with the Trump Organization in January, the company had operated Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink, as well as and a carousel in Central Park, in addition to the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx.
The previous contract to operate Wollman generated about $46 million for the city over the past 18 years, with an additional several million dollars invested in capital improvements without city matches, the Parks Department said, and the new contract will need to generate a “comparable deal” which could be difficult if the CPC gets a 50% share.
Caraccioli of the CPC said that was premature – while the nonprofit has had other city contracts with a 50% revenue split, no discussions of revenue sharing in their Wollman proposal have occurred yet.