About that skating rink

About that skating rink
by digby

In announcing his big infrastructure agenda today Trump talked about his success building a skating rink in New York as the prime example of how he is uniquely qualified to rebuild America's crumbling roads and bridges.

I said, ‘You know, I’d like to be able to have my daughter Ivanka — who is with us — I would like to be able to have her go ice skating sometime before she doesn’t want to ice skate. And I got involved, and I did it in a few months and we did it for a tiny fraction, tiny fraction of the cost. It’s really no different with a roadway, it’s not different with a bridge or a tunnel or any of the things we’ll be fixing.It was a big deal at the time. It remains a big deal. Sometimes the states aren’t able to do it like we can do it. Or like other people can do it. Or like I used to do it.

It was a publicity stunt
. Of course.

And it was a fucking ice-skating rink.

If Trump has any particular genius, it is for jumping to the front of the parade and acting like it is where he has been all along. Agreeing to take on the rink was in this category. It is not as if Trump decided to take over the Second Ave Subway or other long-stalled (and far more complicated) city development projects. “I mean c’mon, it’s a skating rink,” said Vitullo-Martin. “Any halfway decent construction person would have been able to build the damn thing.” There were no real environmental reviews, limited public safety concerns, and delays usually associated with refurbishing a landmarked property were removed as a condition of Trump taking over the project. Plus, the city was limited by a review process and by hiring the lowest-bidding contractor. As a private entity, Trump was able to ignore all that, paying contractors at below cost by promising more work later on in one of his many projects.

Rudolph Rinaldi, the director of construction in the Parks Department at the time, recalled Trump taking his team to Canada to see how a similar project was refurbished, and showing up to tour the site in Central Park with one team of architects and engineers, only to show up the next time with a completely different set of architects and engineers. “We did projects that were much more complicated without Trump,” Rinaldi said. “But we couldn’t fire all of our architects and a hire a whole new team just because we felt like it.”

At the time, City Hall was mystified that Trump was even interested. “You generally don’t see developers try to fix someone else’s capital project,” recalled Vitullo-Martin. “I mean, who does that? Have you ever seen a developer come in and say to a city, ‘Oh, I can fix your crumbling bridge?’ You need a narcissist who will come forward and say, ‘You don’t know what you are doing. I know what I am doing, I will fix it and you will put my name on it.”’

“Any real estate developer in the city could have done that project, but why do you think they didn’t?” asked Adrian Benepe, then a spokesman for the Parks Department and later its commissioner. “It’s because most major real estate families in New York want to work behind the scenes and do the deals, and so many of them do many more deals and build many more buildings than Donald Trump ever does.

“There are so many myths about this thing,” Benepe continued. “One was that he did it for free. No, he did it for whatever the budget was. Another myth: he did something the city never could have done. Well, no, the project was largely complete by the time he took over.”