Billionaire John Paulson and the Paulson Family Foundation are donating $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy, the largest parks donation ever.
Paulson, 56, is founder of Paulson & Co., a New York-based hedge fund that manages $21 billion across 10 funds. Paulson was worth $11.8 billion yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. His contribution will help renovate and maintain park facilities and pay for recreation programs, said Doug Blonsky, president of the conservancy, which is responsible for its maintenance and operations. Half will bolster the park’s endowment, which now stands at $144 million, Blonsky said.
“This past weekend in Central Park I saw babies in carriages, children playing, couples holding hands, dogs running, musicians playing, people jogging, cycling and people from all over the world talking, laughing and exercising,” Paulson said while announcing his gift today at the park’s Bethesda Fountain. “I thought to myself, ‘Central Park is a paradise unlike anywhere else in the world.’”
The park’s 843 acres (341 hectares) stretch from 59th Street to 110th Street in Manhattan and make up a leafy oasis on an island of concrete. Conservancy crews care for 250 acres of lawns, 24,000 trees, 150 acres of lakes and streams and 130 acres of woodlands, according to its website.
Paulson will give the park $60 million in the first year, and $10 million in the next four years, said Dena Libner, a spokeswoman for the conservancy.
Money will be spent on improving the main entrance on the park’s southwest corner, comfort stations, five visitor centers and recreation facilities as well as youth and family programs, Blonsky said.
“I wanted the amount to make a difference,” said Paulson, whose Fifth Avenue apartment faces the park’s east side and overlooks its reservoir. The park, he said, has been an “urban oasis for visitors from all over New York City and all over the world.”
Paulson was raised in the middle-class Beechhurst section of Bayside, in New York’s Queens borough. As a child, his parents took him through the park in a stroller, he said. He was valedictorian at New York University and attended Harvard Business School.
After working in risk arbitrage at Bear Stearns Cos., Odyssey Partners and Gruss Partners, Paulson founded Paulson & Co. in 1994, with $2 million from friends and family.
Paulson in 2009 donated $20 million to New York University Stern School of Business and the following year, along with his wife, Jenny, donated $5 million to Southampton Hospital in New York, which named an emergency department after them.
He donated $15 million to a children’s and maternity hospital in Guayaquil, Ecuador, according to a Nov. 21, 2010, statement.
Paulson also gave $1 million to a Restore Our Future, a super-PAC that supports Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, in the first half of 2011, and his firm gave an additional $1 million to the Tampa host committee for the Republican National Convention, according to Federal Election Commission Reports.
The nonprofit Central Park Conservancy was founded in 1980, according to its website. Its mission was to restore America’s foremost urban public space to the condition envisioned by its 19th-century designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. In 1998, the Conservancy and the city of New York signed a management agreement formalizing their then 18-year public-private partnership.
“Central Park has an enormous economic impact on our city -- 40 million annual visitors generating $1 billion in economic activity -- and that’s in large part due to the great work of the Central Park Conservancy, the Parks Department and the New York City Police Department, who have worked together since 1980 to restore Central Park to its glory and take it to new heights,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a prepared statement. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.