Anything that makes Donald Trump money is a bad idea in my book. Mark this down as a bad week.
The city has granted Trump the right to run a golf course in the Bronx which New York City taxpayers are spending at least $184 million to build.
Trump will pay nothing to the city in the first four years of the 20-year deal, and small licensing fees thereafter. He gets to keep everything else. And naturally, he's going to name the thing Trump Golf Links. As if we didn't have enough Trump-Whatevers around here already.
Maybe it's his reward for his stellar work in 2011 casting doubt on the president's citizenship. Or maybe the golf course represents a lifetime achievement award from the city for a storied career that includes Trump's outstanding work in his Wrestlemania "hair match" with promoter Vince McMahon and eating with pizza with a fork on a publicity outing with Sarah Palin.
Whatever the case, the city's Franchise and Concession Review Committee this week voted 5-1 to approve the deal. The only no came from Controller John Liu, which called the whole plan "a public subsidy for a luxury golf course" that was "not structured in the best interests of New York City taxpayers."
Liu has been in disgrace for a scandal involving his fundraisers. But he's still right.
How did this happen? It all goes back -- as so many things do -- to Rudy Giuliani. Back in 1998, the Giuliani administration announced that Jack Nicklaus was going to design a golf course on a landfill in Bronx's Ferry Point Park. Nicklaus and two other companies would invest $22 million to build a course, driving range, clubhouse, marina, restaurant and catering facility, along with a waterfront promenade, bicycle and walking paths, picnic areas and restrooms.
What could go wrong? The golfing great had already built a course on top of a toxic dump in Montana. A run-of-the-mill landfill should be a cinch.
Even then there were critics who questioned whether New York needed another golf course, and whether city property might better be used for, say, campgrounds. But the deal sounded terrific. The construction costs were going to be totally paid for by the developers in return for a 35-year lease. The city would get somewhere between $1.25 million to $3 million a year in revenues.
Golfers would be charged up to $40 to play at prime times, which was more than the rate at other city parks. It would be a bargain, Nicklaus said, for a course so splendid. The whole thing was scheduled to open in 2001.
Fast forward to 2005: The site was still under construction. The projected cost had gone from $22.5 million to $75 million and the city had already spent nearly $7 million of its own money on an environmental cleanup.
It turned out there were high concentrations of methane gas on the site. The city, which had skirted the foot-dragging bureaucracy by ruling that the project would have no significant environmental impact without actually doing a full-scale study, was stuck with the liability. The FBI taped a Gambino captain bragging about how much profit he was making running trucks that dumped fill into the site.
The developer said it wouldn't be ready until the end of 2007.
Flash forward to 2007: The city decided there was no way to get the course built with private funding. It terminated the contract with the old developer, took over the job itself. The cost estimate had risen to $123 million, making Ferry Point the most expensive municipal golf course ever.
In 2009, the Wall Street Journal announced: "A Course Grows in the Bronx." While there had been a lot of delays, the story acknowledged "there is substance, not merely hope, behind the latest projection of late fall 2011."
Now, it's now, and the cost of the course is pushing toward the $200 million mark.
"It's been a debacle since day one," said Geoffrey Croft, president of New York Park Advocates, a watchdog group. "The public has never been given a say. Should the taxpayers be spending $200 million to build a golf course for Donald Trump?"
The Bloomberg administration chose Trump as operator over what it said were two other bidders it would not name. Trump, who has agreed to build a $10 million clubhouse (whoopee!), says the course will open in 2014.