Is Donald Trump Saving NYC Millions, or Making Millions Off Taxpayers?

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Trump's 'wall' at his golf course at Ferry Point.

Donald Trump has a long history of stretching tax and financial rules to his greatest advantage. 

It started about three decades ago, when he offered to fix the city’s Wollman Ice Rink in Central Park. The city had been unable to cut through the political maneuvering and repair the rink, which sat broken for six years. Trump stepped in and offered to help, and in 1986 the city reluctantly agreed to let him do it.


The Republican presidential nominee still uses the experience as proof that he's presidential material.

"We got it done and to this day it's the most successful ice skating rink, I still run it," Trump told a crowd of supporters at a campaign rally in April. 

Trump completed the repairs on time and under budget. A spokesman for the Trump Organization said that the operation pays millions in rent to the city while investing millions in capital improvements.

"I think he was entrepreneurial, and took somewhat of a risk," said Adrian Benepe, who worked as a press secretary for the New York City Parks Department when Wollman Rink repairs were underway.

"But it certainly wasn't philanthropy. He was well compensated for his work," added Benepe, who called it a myth that Trump repaired the ice rink as a gift to the city.

Trump fixed the rink at the city's expense. He made no profit, and asked contractors who worked on Wollman Rink with him to do it for no profit as well. In exchange, he promised them the project would pay for itself in publicity. 

"He did the right thing, he did a wonderful thing," said Art Nusbaum, who was president of HRH Construction, the firm Trump hired to work on the rink.

"But he chose to pollute it, with his ego getting in the way of everything," added Nusbaum.

Nusbaum's firm was hired on several Trump projects. HRH was promised publicity in exchange for doing the work on Wollman Rink, but it never got so much as a mention from Trump for its work. 

"He can’t have two people standing on the podium. He can’t have somebody even getting the silver and the bronze, He's gotta get the gold, the silver and the bronze all at one time," said Nusbaum.

One of Trump’s companies and another firm continue to operate the rink. The city takes a percentage of the money made, but Trump and the other operator get to keep more than two-thirds of the take.

An audit of Wollman Rink Operations (WRO in the document below) completed July 5, 2007 by New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. found some accounting irregularities at the rink. One report found Wollman had underreported its revenue by $106,608. That means the city lost its share of that revenue.

Trump continues to step into half-built city projects. The latest one is the golf course at Ferry Point in the Bronx.

"Donald transformed a landfill into a championship public golf course, and saved the city millions," said actor Jon Voight at the Republican National Convention this past summer.

Bronx residents had been promised for decades that the closed landfill would become a city park.

Under Mayor Rudy Giuliani the site morphed into a golf course, with a smaller park. But when the financial mortgage crisis took hold in 2006, the deal fell apart until Mayor Mike Bloomberg took it on. He called for new proposals, and Trump’s was chosen.

"The notion that he built it is a lie," said Benepe, who was NYC Parks Commissioner when Trump penned his license agreement with the city.

It opened last year, with the current de Blasio Administration playing down its involvement. The course is literally across the street from a number of public housing projects, but it's cut off from the apartment buildings by a black fence and evergreen trees. 

The deal was contentious from the start, and the terms for Trump were lucrative: he doesn't have to start paying to lease the course until 2019, and the city pays the course's water and sewer bills.

"I doubt I’ll ever forget what a terrible deal it was for NYC taxpayers," said former NYC Comptroller John Liu, adding that it amounted to a $127 million subsidy from the city for Trump to run the course.

Trump is under contract to build a club house and fill in the Ferry Point greens. So far he’s only spent about $850-thousand on the greens, and the clubhouse is still a temporary structure.

But the Trump Organization defends the deal.

"The course, which was designed to host major championships, will bring a significant amount of revenue to the community, ultimately boosting the economy of New York City," said a Trump Organization spokesperson.

Few residents who live across the street from the golf course appear to see much of it or to play golf on it.

"I don’t think everybody around the neighborhood can afford it. That space could have been used for something more beneficial to us, for the public," said public housing resident Cassandra Medina.

Residents did get a park, but it was smaller than promised, and work hasn't even begun on some parts of the public open space near the water.

This week Eric Trump asked the de Blasio Administration to allow it to move the 17th and 18th holes closer to the water, and exchange some areas inland for public use, but the request was denied.

"We are determined to protect and expand the community’s access to its waterfront, and to not impinge upon it," wrote Alicia Glen, New York City's deputy mayor for housing and economic development.

Income statements show that Trump made $1,456,244 in net income from the course. He spent just $850,000 on a temporary clubhouse and filling in the greens. 

The de Blasio Administration said it had to allow Trump — per his agreement with the city — to raise greens fees. It costs residents $172 dollars to play Ferry Point Golf Links on a weekend.

"The city's taxpayers will never make the money back and [Donald Trump] is getting a free ride," said Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Park Advocates.