Before he was famous for anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, Donald Trump was famous for, among other things, gloating about his business acumen while running businesses into the ground. When it comes to the demagogic presidential candidate’s Trump Golf Links golf course in the Bronx, it’s unclear how much money he’s actually making. What does seem fairly obvious is that New York City taxpayers are getting screwed.
The group NYC Park Advocatesobtained financial reports regarding Trump Links, showing that the course, the most expensive city-funded golf facility in the country at around $164 million, brought in more than $8 million in its first year, none of which is going back into city coffers.
Built on a former landfill next to Ferry Point Park in Throgs Neck, the golf course was first begun in 1998, under then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani. A series of delays, cost overruns, and disputes with developers followed. Trump stepped in with a proposal to salvage the project in 2010, and Michael Bloomberg chose his bid over two other unnamed companies’, signing off on it in early 2012. The revised deal was far more generous to Trump, and the course far more expensive, with little included to ensure public benefit. The course opened last spring.
“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 Daily News in 2014.
Under the terms outlined by the 20-year contract, the Trump Organization has to pay nothing to the city for the first four years of operation, then for the fifth year, the larger of $300,000 or 7 percent of gross revenues, and an increasing share up until year 20, when it is supposed to cough up the greater of $470,000 or 10 percent of gross revenues, plus 3 percent of sub-vendors’ gross revenues.
“It’s like the city is actually paying Donald Trump to run a luxury golf course that caters to the rich,” Geoffrey Croft, head of NYC Park Advocates, told the New York Post.
Croft also found that city taxpayers are on the hook for the course’s sewage and water fees, which ran more than $1 million in the last year and are expected to rise in the coming year. In constructing the course, for which former golf pro Jack Nicklaus also got a sweetheart design contract that includes private jet and helicopter travel, the Trump Organization only had to pitch in $10 million for construction of a permanent clubhouse. The clubhouse has yet to be completed.
Also, last year, the de Blasio administration quietly raised the amount Trump can charge course users, increasing rates from an initially proposed $100-$125 per round to $144-172 per round for adult play. Part of these increases are to pay for pieces of the course not finished when the city handed it over, including synthetic turf, and will go away once they’re completed, according to a Parks Department spokesman. Trump is also allowed annual rate increases.
Currently, seniors pay $140, far more than the $55 per round that Croft writes was initially stipulated, and players under 16 are being charged $107, compared to the initially specified $35. By comparison, other public golf courses in the city charge $25-$39 for 18 holes, or $24 for seniors and $7.75 for kids under 16.
The golf course’s promotional materials make no secret of its owner’s intention for it to be a luxury amenity, but part of how it was pitched was as a vehicle to bring economic growth to the Bronx, in part by attracting PGA tournaments. Now that Trump has transitioned from tacky businessman to tacky xenophobic figurehead, prospects of that happening at Trump Links seem as dim as the city getting it’s money’s worth.
“Sources close to Trump” told Golf.com in 2014 that the PGA would hold its Barclays tournament at the Bronx course. But the following year, when the PGA of America was pulling out of hosting the Grand Slam of Golf at Trump’s Los Angeles course because of his warnings that drug-smugglers, criminals, and rapists were pouring over the Mexican border, the PGA denied that it had ever agreed to touch down on Trump’s taxpayer-funded Boogie Down turf. So far the golf league has not indicated any further plans to do so.
At the time of Trump’s doomsday border rant, Mayor Bill de Blasio called his remarks “offensive and disgusting,” and pledged to look into ending contracts with the human embodiment of the bottom of a Doritos bag. Ultimately, de Blasio did nothing.
At Trump Links, Trump’s terms are far more generous than those of similar golf course vendors, according to NYC Park Advocates. Also, Trump can close the course at any time, with Parks Department approval, and use it for private events during off hours and days, or for as much as 20 percent of the time on weekdays.
A promised waterfront esplanade for Ferry Point Park, pledged by the city as part of the golf course construction, is still behind schedule as were other pieces of the accompanying $45 million park upgrade. It’s not clear if promised discounted youth and school programs are being offered at Trump Links. The New York Times reported that half of the course’s 100 employees are Bronx residents.
Trump Links hosted the NYC Mayor’s Cup high school golf championship last week.
We’ve reached out to the Parks Department, the Trump Organization, and Bronx Councilman James Vacca for comment. Vacca is a longtime backer of the golf course, and of Trump as its vendor, and Trump donated $250 to his 2012 campaign.
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