The city is moving to kill the contract under which the president’s company operates a golf course built atop a landfill.
The de Blasio administration’s move to terminate contracts between the city and the Trump Organization might be the beginning of a legal fight.
But at least in the case of one of those contracts, it’s just the latest twist in a long, deeply weird history.
The deals Mayor de Blasio wants to kill are those under which the president’s company operates the Central Park Carousel, the Wollman and Lasker skating rinks, and the Ferry Point Golf Course. The first three contracts can be terminated within a month but “the process for terminating the Ferry Point Golf Course is more detailed and is expected to take a number of months,” City Hall said in a press release Wednesday.
The city’s rationale for killing that deal is the Professional Golf Association’s decision to cancel the 2022 PGA Championship at a Trump golf course. “In its contract with the Trump Organization to run Ferry Point Golf Course, the city called for a championship level golf course that would attract major championship events,” City Hall said.
If the city is successful at stripping control of the links from Trump, it will presumably find a new concessionaire to take it over. Trump himself was not the original force behind the course. Nor was the golf course originally a golf course.
As reporter Alex Ulam wrote in City Limits in September, 2001: “Until the mid 1960s, when it was transferred to the Parks Department, the 220-acre section of Ferry Point Park east of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge was an active landfill. Although Robert Moses once dreamed of building a golf course there, the park sat mostly undeveloped. … Throughout its recent history, the park also served as a popular place to illegally dump cars, oil drums and other refuse.”
But in 2000, the Giuliani administration had agreed with developers to create a world-class golf course there. “The 195-acre, 18-hole course, slated to open in 2003, is being designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus and built by J. Pierre Gagne, a developer from White Plains,” Ulam reported. “Their company, Ferry Point Partners LLC, has won a 35-year franchise from the city Parks Department to build and operate the course.”
The project was troubled from the start by environmental concerns—like methane gas rising up from the old landfill and leachate draining out of it and qualms about the contract: Then-Comptroller Alan Hevesi refused to register the deal for a year, but finally okayed in in mid-2001.
However, the concerns about the contract seem to have been well-founded. By July 2002, Ulam was reporting:
The project’s budget has ballooned from $22.5 million to more than $40 million, and it now appears that the golf course might not get built at all. … the environmental conditions at Ferry Point Park appear so threatening that the very survival of the troubled golf course development is in doubt. Engineering plans for the whole project have had to be substantially revised to address environmental problems.
Over the next five years, the city spent millions helping to clean up the contamination and make the project viable again. But the spending was not particularly careful. A 2007 audit by then-Comptroller Bill Thompson found:
The Parks Department has not effectively monitored remediation costs submitted by the concessionaire to determine whether they were substantiated, reasonable, and necessary, and did not determine whether scheduled capital improvement work was being performed in accordance with the license agreement and modification. As a result, the City overpaid the concessionaire almost $6 million and lost more than $3 million in revenue from forgone license fees.
Five years after that, the city’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee gave a sweet deal to Trump to take over the project after the original developers dropped out. Yet another comptroller, John Liu, now weighed in against the agreement.
“This agreement, which amounts to a public subsidy for a luxury golf course, is not structured in the best interests of New York City taxpayers,” he said. “This deal does not give a fair return to our taxpayers and therefore we cannot support it.” Liu was the only member of the committee to vote against the concession, according to Golf Course Architecture.
In 2013, the course finally was completed. “For the first time, New York City golfers will reap the benefits of a world class golfing experience unlike any other,” Trump said at the time, per the Daily News, when he was two years away from announcing his run for president, but already notorious for stoking the “birther” conspiracy theories about President Obama.
The course did well for a few years, then lost money in 2018-2019. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Trump Organization blamed the city.