On its “Donations” web page, Central Park accepts gifts of five set amounts, from $20 to $500. A sixth option, “other,” also lets donors choose their own amount: $25, say, if $20 is just not quite enough—or, as in John Paulson’s case, $100 million.
The New York-based hedge fund manager announced this sizable gift to the Central Park Conservancy on Tuesday, Oct. 23, in the park by Bethesda Fountain. According to the conservancy, the gift is the largest donation to any park ever.
Paulson, 56, is a Queens native who has a long family history with Central Park, where his grandparents went on their first date and his mother took him to play as a child, he mentioned in his announcement. He lives just steps away from the park now, with an overhead view from his Fifth Avenue townhouse.
“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,” he said. “I wanted the amount to make a difference. The park is very large, and its endowment is relatively small.”
“Small” is, indeed, a relative claim, and it has drawn some criticism from park advocates in the past two weeks. According to Bloomberg, New York City devoted $338 million this year to its 29,000-acre park system, less than 0.5 percent of its annual $68.5 billion operating budget and $42 million less than last year. Central Park’s $144 million endowment, however, still makes it one of the best-financed parks of its size in the world, with resources for extensive maintenance and public outreach projects. Advocates claim that many other parks in the city—like Bronx’s Pelham Bay, which has the three times Central Park’s acreage and a single full-time maintenance employee, as pointed out by the New York Times—could benefit more than Central Park from increased funds.
Nonetheless, locals who frequent the park are excited about the changes to Manhattan’s backyard that Paulson’s donation promises to bring, including restoration of the North Woods and landscaping in the park’s southwest corner around its busiest entrance, Merchants’ Gate.
“I hope they improve the trails,” said a dog walker outside the park. “More trails in general, really, would be good.”
A biker joked that all that money could be used to build a whole new road around the park just for cyclists.
“It’s the best park in the world,” said a jogger stretching by Merchants’ Gate, “and [the donation] is going to make it better. I’m looking forward to whatever’s to come.”
Central Park Conservancy has announced that half of Paulson’s donation will go to the park’s endowment for maintenance, and the other half will go directly to capital improvements. Dena Libner, the conservancy’s public relations manager, confirmed that the money still would be devoted to long-term and sustainable improvement projects even in light of the extensive tree damage the park suffered from last week’s storm.
Central Park Conservancy CEO Doug Blonsky followed Paulson’s announcement in October by describing the park as a vital contributor to New Yorkers’ quality of life and to the city’s economic health. Thanks to Paulson, he said, “The cycles of decline and restoration that this park has suffered for so long will be broken forever.”
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