Central Park Conservancy Bid For Rinks Skates on Thin Ice

The Wollman Rink. Photo from the Central Park Conservancy

With millions of dollars of concessions fees, and restaurant revenue at stake, the city is looking for an entity to take over Central Park’s famed Wollman and Lasker Skating Rinks from the Trump Organization, and the Central Park Conservancy (CPC) is jockeying for the inside track.

CPC President and CEO Betsy Smith said the nonprofit, which has managed Central Park for more than 40 years, put in a $50 million initial capital investment that included management and operation (M&O), in which the Conservancy would be the sole-source contract holders for the rinks and parks facilities.

“The city had asked to do an analysis of the condition of Wollman Rink, which we did. The rink is in very poor shape. It is going to have to be completely rebuilt. So that was our idea, that we were going to take the next couple of years while we were running it and really spend the time to rebuild it,” said Smith.

The CPC’s plan was to re-envision Wollman as they have Lasker, which is located on the northside in East Harlem and is closing in June for construction and improvements to the ice and grounds over the next few years.

Smith said under their model, the plan would have the millions the Trump Organization made in profits stay within the park and be used for its maintenance. Their vision also includes reinvestment in the park on such items as public access to bathrooms, community programming, coordinating displaced Lasker skaters to Wollman, doing a complete overhaul of the grounds, and making the ice more environmentally sustainable.

But the plan also included a city investment – something the Parks Department wasn’t ready to do – along with several other concerns. So they issued a request for proposals (RFP) to operate the southside Wollman Rink back in February. 

“The City did not contribute any money under the prior agreement. Our goal is to negotiate a comparable deal. As per their M&O agreement, CPC would get to keep 50% of those funds, this would limit the amount of money the City would be able to make from this concession,” said the Parks Department Spokesperson Crystal Howard.

The deadline for the RFP responses was Friday, March 19, 2021, and currently, the Parks Department is reviewing several proposals.

“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 hav[ing] skating this winter at both Wollman and Lasker rinks, not just Lasker,” said Howard. 

The brouhaha between the Parks Department and the CPC comes after the de Blasio administration is looking to sever the deal with the Trump organization, citing former President Donald Trump’s alleged criminal involvement in storming the nation’s capital in January.

Trump – then a New York City real estate magnate – and his organization have run the rinks since a 1986 agreement wherein the company renovated the dilapidated rinks for the city at 25% under budget and took over the concessions. Over the past 18 years, the Trump organization paid the city about $46 million in concession fees, plus several million in capital improvements, according to a Parks Department spokesperson.

Smith said pointedly that everyone is entitled to a point of view, but whether CPC can handle the operation of the rinks is a difference of opinion. 

“Quite frankly we know all the ice rink operators. We long ago, several months ago assured the city that we would be able to open the rink in November. We know how important it is,” said Smith.

But Howard said the decision on the current path for a Wollman operator is final and the Parks Department has already received an amazing response to our competitive RFP process. 

“There are a number of great contenders. The review process is ongoing,” Howard said.

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