Donald Trump isn’t shy about taking undue credit. For instance: In 2010, New York City tapped Trump to operate a struggling luxury public golf course in the Bronx. Today, the presumptive Republican nominee wants voters to believe he saved the project with his business acumen—but that isn’t quite what happened.
Construction of the 192-acre course was beset with delays almost from its inception in 1999, under the Giuliani administration. In 2006, the original developer backed out of the project. The city stepped in to build the course itself—using city contractors and tax-payer money—and in 2010 the Trump Organization was awarded a contract to operate the course on the condition that it would finance construction of a $10 million clubhouse.
“In my opinion, that course would not have been open for 10 years more had I not gotten involved,” Trump told Crain’s New York on Tuesday. “And just so you understand: It wasn’t shaped, it wasn’t seeded, sprinklers weren’t in. It was in raw form, I mean take a look at it, take a look at the pictures, it was all dirt. It was going on forever.”
“It wasn’t getting built,” Trump said. “Nobody could get it open.” However: “I was able to do it. I got it open.”
This is a narrative Trump has been pushing for a while: “We stopped the bleeding and we got the project to the finish line,” Ron Lieberman, Trump’s vice president for management and development, told the New York Daily News in 2014. Last year, as Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point was about to open, Ivanka Trump referred to her father in a blog post as the project’s “developer”:
My father acquired this amazing redevelopment project after it had floundered around with the City of New York for more than two decades. Shortly after he was announced as the developer, my father went out to the construction site, where he saw a bunch of guys literally moving sand from one end of the course to the other. He essentially looked at them and said, “You guys have made a lot of money pushing sand around for the last 20 years, but that stops with me. It’s time to get this done.” And they did.
In collaboration with Jack Nicklaus, my family was able to do in two years what the city hadn’t been able to do in two decades. In a way, this story is very similar to the rinks in Central Park where, more than 25 years ago, he was able to get the dilapidated skating rinks reopened when the city and then-mayor, Ed Koch, was unable to do so. Today, millions of New Yorkers get to enjoy skating at Trump Rink!
“We had half a golf course out there before Mr. Trump got involved,” Nicklaus, the golf legend who designed the course, told the Wall Street Journal in 2013. “The problem was finishing it. They kept working at it. We spent this ridiculous amount of money for environmental issues—on a dump!” (The course is built on top of a former landfill.)
In fact, according to the New York City Parks Department and its former commissioner, the course was well on its way to completion. “Mr. Trump seems to be inventing his own history of this project,” Adrian Benepe, parks commissioner under Michael Bloomberg, told Crain’s. “In fact, all of the heavy lifting of turning this garbage dump into a golf course—including design and all the heavy construction—was done by the city of New York using public funding. There was no ‘saving’ required.”
Quite a bit of public funding, actually. Between greens fees, merchandise sales, golf-cart rentals, and other revenues, the $237 million Ferry Point generated $8.07 million in its first year—more than any other city-owned course. But Trump stands to gain more than the city does. From the New York Post:
Under an unprecedented 20-year lease handed out during the Bloomberg administration, Trump doesn’t have to pay the city a cent the first four years Ferry Point is open, records show.
By year five, he has to fork over 7 percent of gross receipts or a minimum of $300,000; and by year 20, he pays 10 percent, or a minimum of $470,000, to the city.
Meanwhile, the course charges New Yorkers $144 on weekdays and $172 on weekends to play 18 holes — more than triple what all other city-run courses charge.
“It’s like the city is actually paying Donald Trump to run a luxury golf course that caters to the rich,” Geoffrey Croft, of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates, told the Post.
“The Trump Organization is pleased and honored that we have been designated as the operator of this great golf course,” he said at a press conference with then-Mayor Bloomberg. “I am very happy to have helped our city get Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point built and open.”