A Fight for Wollman Rink

Central Park Conservancy proposes $50 million plan to rebuild and expand public access

| 18 Apr 2021 | 09:28

As the city canceled all contracts with the Trump Organization in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, a local nonprofit is worried Wollman Rink will be run by a private company.

The Central Park Conservancy is hoping to take over as operator and is pleading its case. As it is currently in the process of beginning a $100 million reconstruction project on Lasker Rink and Pool, Elizabeth Smith, president and CEO of the Central Park Conservancy, feels it is in the right position to take the reigns at Wollman as well.

It has proposed a $50 million plan to rebuild the rink and maintain it with a new focus on expanded public access and community programming. Additionally, the CPC hopes to use the rink during non-skating season, filling the site with free or low-cost cultural performances from across the city.

Smith recently sent a letter out to their supporters explaining why they should take over the rink.

“As a nonprofit organization managing skating at both rinks, we would be uniquely positioned to ensure that local community use is coordinated and prioritized,” she said. “Our proposal is a long-term solution and, we believe, a sounder financial and social alternative to the city’s approach to award a short-term contract to a commercial operator which will prioritize its own profitability over the public’s interest.”

Ira Millstein, former chairman and life trustee of the Conservancy, described this as a “a once-in-a-generation planning opportunity,” in a letter sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio on March 31.

Millstein is also worried the new contract will go to another private company.

“There is still time for the city to forego a for-profit operator,” Millstein said in the letter. “It should turn again, as it has in the past, to the Central Park Conservancy, which would coordinate Wollman with the Lasker Rink on the Harlem Meer. Wollman and Lasker have always been operated jointly, which is what the Conservancy is offering to continue.

“The Conservancy’s capacity to do what it promises is demonstrated by its continuously successful stewardship of the Park and its ongoing commitment to managing this public space.”

Change in Position

A Parks Department spokesman explained that the Conservancy does not have the experience operating an ice rink at this time. Also, more than a year and a half ago they discussed the future of Wollman Rink with the nonprofit and it was in support of Parks’ process to find a new independent operator.

The spokesman told the West Side Spirit that Parks and CPC engaged in several conversations, but only recently signaled a change in their position.

The Trump Organization paid the city $46 million the past 18 years, but if the Conservancy took over it would get to keep 50% of those funds, which would limit the amount of money the city could make.

“Our goal is to have an experienced operator in place so that there is no disruption in this winter’s skating season at Wollman Rink,” the spokesman said. “The most dependable way to do that is through our competitive process. If we’d gone the route of exploring a sole source agreement with the Central Park Conservancy we would have run a serious risk of not having skating this winter at both Wollman and Lasker rinks, not just Lasker.”

All proposals were due by March 19 and the review process is still ongoing.