The New York City ice rink run by former President Donald Trump’s business organization was a visible wreck. Located in Central Park, Wollman Rink has been a staple of wintertime recreation in the city since 1950, but in the years since being taken over by the Trump Organization in the 1980s, maintenance had fallen by the wayside. The clubhouse where you rent skates and lockers was a jumble of crowded spaces and decaying storage facilities. Some of its bathrooms lacked basic plumbing. Its exterior trellis was falling apart. Of more than 50 doors in the clubhouse and concessions building, only three worked.
So when the license to operate the rink came up for renewal earlier this year, the Trump Organization was essentially voted out.
“The city did not want to renew their lease for a lot of reasons, as you can imagine,” says Greg Gushee, executive vice president of Related Companies, the New York-based developer. Along with sports venue operator Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment and fitness club operator Equinox, Related formed a joint venture, Wollman Park Partners, to take over the rink. In July the group was awarded a five-year lease by the city. After a fast-tracked renovation, the rink reopens November 14.
Gushee says updating the rink was no small task. “It was run with very little maintenance, no [capital expenditures] for many, many years. So it went downhill,” he says. “We basically gutted the inside.”
After years of deferred maintenance, the rink has undergone a $7.5 million refresh. The clubhouse has new electrical wiring, bathroom plumbing, locker areas, and an exterior patio, and upgrades have been made to the food and beverage stands and the skate rental area. The update even tackled straightforward things like digitizing ticket sales instead of having hundreds of people waiting in lines to get inside. “The lines were crazy,” Gushee says. “So we separated the ticketing and the entrance, from a security point of view.”
With designs from global architecture firm Gensler and hospitality specialists Rockwell Group, Wollman Park Partners plans to expand the rink’s amenities to include rink-side seating, new food options, a “S’Mores Lounge,” and a Zamboni shed.
“The goal was not just making it functional but [making] it great,” Gushee says, noting that the group is refocusing the rink’s mission from just a moneymaking park attraction to a place that serves the community. Wollman Park Partners has shared use agreements with community groups like the YMCA, Ice Hockey in Harlem, Figure Skating in Harlem, and the Boys’ Club of New York. They’ve also brought in Melba Wilson of Harlem-based Melba’s Restaurant to provide signature menu items.
As part of their operating contract, Wollman Park Partners has committed to reinvesting profits from the rink into facility upgrades, on-site partnerships with community organizations, and programming. Essentially a break-even venture for the partners, Gushee calls the rink lease a reinvestment in the city.
“This is more of a group project than a commercial project,” he says. “The design and architecture was really a back seat to the real mission, which was the community.”
Plans are still taking shape for the additional buildings alongside the rink and won’t be ready for this winter season. The S’Mores Lounge is currently going through design reviews with various city departments. Gushee says the additions and the renovations are just part of an effort to bring the much-loved rink back to its previous glory.
“It’s not supposed to be a super flashy thing,” Gushee says. “It’s about supporting New York City in an equitable way.”