Wall Street Moms and Dads Go to Bat for Kids' Athletic Fieldsby
David Blitzer among attendees at Randall's Island Park gala
John McEnroe honored, raises $20,000 for two hours of play
How does a guy in finance coach his kids’ soccer and baseball games? “I’m probably too nice,” said Rodney Cohen of the Carlyle Group.
“I can be tough but you want to encourage the kids, too,” said Brad Peck of Taurus Asset Management.
Blackstone’s David Blitzer -- an owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils -- said he doesn’t coach and isn’t too passionate a bystander (if you can believe him). “I’m a silent observer,” he said.
These dads and many others -- Marc Lipschultz of Owl Rock Capital Partners, Michael Karsch of Hunter Peak Investments, Michael Chang of BC Partners -- were on hand for the Randall’s Island Park Alliance Fielding Dreams gala. The event was held at the American Museum of Natural History (which John McEnroe called a fitting place to be honored, as he’s considered a dinosaur in his sport).
RIPA works with New York City to manage Randall’s Island Park, which is technically part of Manhattan, though located close to the Bronx and Queens as well. It contains more than 60 fields (more than half of Manhattan’s) used for sports by public and private schools, as well as youth and adult leagues, for soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse and rugby.
McEnroe, movingly introduced by Arthur Ashe’s widow, photographer Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, recalled playing mostly soccer on Randall’s Island when he was a kid growing up in New York City. “It was a little hairy out there,” McEnroe said of fields dotted with shards of glass and syringes.
In the past 20 years, almost $270 million in capital improvements have transformed the park, including $2 million last year to replace turf and repair lighting on the fields. And it takes money to keep them pristine. The annual maintenance budget for the New York City park is $5.6 million, according to a video played during the organic chicken dinner.
Randall’s Island also offers tennis courts, restored wetlands, bike and running pathways with fantastic views of Manhattan, a driving range, miniature golf and an urban farm. The Icahn Stadium (which last year got a new scoreboard at a cost of $400,000) hosts major track events. And the park plays host to the Frieze Art Fair and the Governors Ball music festival.
Two bridges have opened up pedestrian access to East Harlem and the South Bronx, increasing visitors to more than 3 million in 2015 from 1.7 million in 2012. Now RIPA is working on how to become a true backyard for these communities. Families surveyed said they’d like to be able to picnic there or take a Zumba class, said Nancy Neff, RIPA’s co-chairman. Last summer, RIPA offered two movie nights with ice cream. “We’d love to build a destination playground,” Neff said.
“Why I got involved? I knew my kid was always going to have a place to play, and I wanted to help get other kids out there,” said Jonathan May, executive director of Natural Capital Partner Holdings.
Greg Shufro of wealth manager Shufro Rose said his son is on a baseball team with mostly Dominican players, meaning his Jewish kid is not only studying Spanish in school, he’s being coached in Spanish. “It’s the way it should be. It’s not fancy. The kids just go out and play.”
Some guests dressed in keeping with the sports theme, so yes, those were baseballs on Shufro’s tie and glittery soccer balls on Jennifer Lipshultz’s Dior shoes.
In the auction bidding, Blitzer proved an eager player. “Sir, I believe you just outbid yourself,” said auctioneer Howard Schwartz of Blitzer’s successive uncontested bids that earned him a sleepover for four at the American Museum of Natural History for $3,000. (Maybe that generosity will also earn him the right to add a guest -- the Blitzers have five kids.)
Whitney Tilson of Kase Capital Management bought two tickets to the Grammys, plus air fare and hotel, for $9,500. And someone bid $20,000 to play with McEnroe for two hours. “I promise you I will kick this guy’s ...,” McEnroe said when the deal was sealed. That money went to the Johnny Mac Tennis Project, which provide scholarships to New York City kids to attend tennis academies, and aims to nurture the next No. 1 professional player from the city.