“I just got fed up one day and decided to do something about it.” (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)
Wollman Rink opened in 1949 with funds donated by Kate Wollman (1869-1955) who gave $600,000 for the rink. Operated by the city of New York, the rink closed in June 1980 for renovations that was expected to take two and a half years and $9.1 million. As Donald Trump says, even that seemed like a long time to rebuild an ice-skating rink. Six years and $13 million later, the job was still not completed.
From his apartment window, Donald Trump watched the ongoing “renovations” for six years. The last straw was on the morning of May 22, 1986 when he saw the front-page article in the New York Times saying city officials had decided to start all over in their effort to rebuild Wollman Skating Rink. “If everything went well, the rink would be ready to reopen in approximately two years.”
Ironically, in June 1980 (the same month Wollman Rink had closed), Donald Trump broke ground for Trump Tower, a 68-story skyscraper, and completed it within two and a half years, on time and on budget. Surely, he thought, it was possible to build an ice-skating rink in a matter of months?
In 1984, when the rink job was already a disaster, Trump had called Henry Stern, Commissioner of Parks, and offered to take over construction from the city, for NO FEE. The city turned him down. Now, in 1986, upon news of the latest plan to start all over, Trump called Henry again and made the same offer. Again, his offer was rejected. But this time, The Donald wasn’t backing down. He wrote a letter to the mayor, Ed Koch.
Trump says, “I was appalled by the city’s incompetence. I genuinely felt I could get the job done, and I believed the rink was something hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers – including my own children – had a right to enjoy. Whatever anyone may think, my motive was that simple.”
He wrote, “For many years I have watched with amazement as New York City repeatedly failed on its promises to complete and open Wollman Skating Rink. It essentially involves the pouring of a concrete slab over coolant piping and should take no more than four months’ time. To hear that after six years, it will now take another two years, is unacceptable!”
Trump offered to construct and pay for a brand-new skating rink and have it open to the public by November. In addition, “I will lease the rink from the city at a fair market rental, and run it properly after its completion.”
After 10 days of negotiations, the city finally accepted an offer – Trump would put up the estimated $3 million construction money and complete the work by December 15. Since he knew nothing about building skating rinks, Donald Trump sought out the best rink-builder he could find – he went to the company that built rinks for Canada’s professional hockey teams – Cimco, based in Toronto. Determined to do it right, he researched, he learned from the best of the best, until he knew exactly what he wanted.
He also researched all the mistakes the city had made over the past six years – and there were many. So many, the city had even paid $200,000 to hire an outside engineering consultant to do a 9-month study on what went wrong. In addition to leaking pipes under the cement, Trump found gaping holes in the roof of the skaters’ house, and a whole row of sacks filled with dead plants that had been purchased for landscaping, then left to die. Waste and neglect everywhere, almost $13 million just gone, from the pockets of New York taxpayers.
Instead of trying to repair the existing mess, the decision was made to just rebuild a brand new rink right on top of the old one. From September 7-10, construction workers laid twenty-two miles of pipes. On September 11, a convoy of cement trucks arrived, and they poured cement for ten hours. By the end of September, all ice-making equipment was in place. Finally on October 15, it was cold enough to test the system – there were no leaks, the pressure held, and that night, ice formed on the rink – almost four months to the day since Trump had taken over.
The project was also completed under budget by $750,000. Trump took the leftover money to renovate the skatehouse and restaurant.
When searching for a company to manage the rink, again, Donald Trump sought out the best – Ice Capades – and again it turned into a success story. During the 1970’s, when the rink was still run by the city, it averaged $100,000 income per year.
After Trump’s renovation, they charged prices below any private city rink, and earned $1.2 million in revenues in the first year. Profits exceeded $500,000 after expenses, and all of it went to charity and the Parks Department. Equally important, more than half a million skaters once again enjoyed Wollman Rink.
Donald Trump made Wollman Rink in Central Park GREAT AGAIN.