John Paulson Donates $100 Million to Central Park
Hedge Fund Manager Donates $100 Million for Central Park
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the Central Park Conservancy announced on Tuesday that the hedge fund billionaire John A. Paulson, along with the Paulson Family Foundation, were giving $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy. It is believed to be the largest gift ever to a public park.
Mr. Paulson, a lifelong New Yorker, said that as an infant he was pushed around in a baby carriage in the park and that he later remembered going to Bethesda Fountain as a teenager and seeing it covered in graffiti, with no water flowing. The announcement of the gift came during a ceremony at the fountain.
When asked at the news conference what prompted the gift, Mr. Paulson said: “Walking through the park in different seasons, it kept coming back that in my mind Central Park is the most deserving of all of New York’s cultural institutions. And I wanted the amount to make a difference. The park is very large, and its endowment is relatively small.”
The park’s current endowment stands at $144 million. Half of Mr. Paulson’s gift will go to the endowment, while the other half will be used for capital improvements. Mr. Paulson mentioned two that he considered important: Restoring the park’s North Woods, and sprucing up the Merchant’s Gate entrance at the park’s southwest corner, the most heavily used entrance.
Mr. Paulson has been a supporter of the Central Park Conservancy for 20 years, but this is his first major gift to the park. He joined the conservancy’s board in June.
Two former parks commissioners, Henry Stern and Adrian Benepe, were at the news conference on Tuesday. It was also attended by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers and Richard Gilder, key figures in the conservancy’s founding.
The announcement was made under cloudy skies in a ceremony attended by hundreds of employees of the Central Park Conservancy in their gray sweatshirts, as well as the conservancy’s board. Doug Blonsky, the president and chief executive officer of the conservancy, which operates Central Park for the city, hailed the gift as “transformational,” saying that it would break the cycle of restoration and decline that has marked the park throughout its 153-year history.
“Central Park was created by two individuals — Olmsted and Vaux — in 1858,” Mr. Blonsky said, referring to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the landscape architects responsible for the park’s design. “In 1980, a group of individuals banded together to restore it to its long-forgotten glory. Today, John joins these visionaries to sustain Central Park well into the future.”
Mr. Benepe, a senior official at the Trust for Public Land who recently stepped down as parks commissioner, said the money would help ensure that the park is not loved to death. The nonprofit conservancy raises more than 80 percent of the park’s annual budget, currently $45.8 million.
“It gets harder and harder to raise operating money,” Mr. Benepe said. “The park has 40 million visitors a year, and it’s taking a toll on the landscape.”
Mr. Paulson, who was born in Queens and graduated from the Harvard Business School, gained prominence and earned billions by betting on the collapse of the real estate market long before many other investors did. He set up two funds as early as 2006 specifically designed to take advantage of a decline in subprime loans.
But Mr. Paulson’s financial achievements were cast in an unflattering light two years ago when the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit against Goldman Sachs that involved a mortgage investment fund that Mr. Paulson had played a role in creating. The lawsuit accused Goldman of failing to tell investors that they were buying into pools of questionable loans. Mr. Paulson was not named in the suit.
The infusion of money for Central Park comes as maintenance budgets for parks across the city have fallen during the financial downturn. While a few of the city’s 1,700 parks conduct substantial private fund-raising and can augment public money, none approaches that of Central Park, New York City’s flagship and an international tourist destination that has long outshone every other park in the system.
The donation is the latest, and biggest, in a year in which the city’s parks emerged as major beneficiaries of philanthropy, joining more traditional recipients like museums, hospitals and universities.
A year ago, the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation pledged $20 million to the High Line, the elevated park on the West Side of Manhattan; that donation followed two earlier ones to the High Line from the foundation, totaling $15 million. In April, Joshua P. Rechnitz, an amateur track cyclist, announced a gift of $40 million to Brooklyn Bridge Park to build a velodrome, an enclosed speed cycling track.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 23, 2012
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Gordon Davis, a former parks commissioner, was at the news conference. Mr. Davis was not in attendance.