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Hedge Fund Leader Donates $100 Million to Central Park

By Ben Fractenberg | October 23, 2012 2:34pm

CENTRAL PARK — Hedge fund billionaire John Paulson's grandparents had their first date in Central Park and when he was a child his parents pushed him through the sprawling greenspace in a stroller.

Now Paulson, who lives on the Upper East Side and manages Paulson and Co., is making an eye-popping $100 million gift to the Central Park Conservancy, city officials announced Tuesday.

"It's the largest [donation] made to any park anywhere," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Bethesda Fountain during a Tuesday morning press conference.  "It's not a gift to the park but a gift to everyone."

The money will be used for capital improvements, like refurbishing the entrance to the park across from Columbus Circle, and for the Conservancy's endowment, which will be used for operating funds and general upkeep of the more than 800 acres of parkland.

"[The donation] will continue the Conservancy's capital restoration and maintenance of its 21 playgrounds, 130 acres of woodlands, capital improvements to park-wide infrastructure and comfort stations, upgrades to its five visitor centers and recreation facilities and the enhancement of youth and family programing," said Doug Blonsky, President and CEO of the Conservancy.

Paulson said the park continues to play a vital role in his life and is a place he still visits often.

"This past weekend in the 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," said Paulson. "I thought to myself, Central Park is a paradise unlike anywhere else in the world."

Half of the gift will go to the group's permanent endowment, which is currently $144 million, and the other half will be used for capital improvements, including working on the park's southwest entrance, Merchant's Gate and restoration of the North Woods.

"That landscape is home to now the most visited entrance for Central Park and should reflect the beauty and the quality of the park's entire 843 acres," Paulson said.

The work on the entrance will include upgrades to landscaping, irrigation and infrastructure.

The Central Park Conservancy was created in 1980 as a public-private partnership to manage the park. It raises 80 percent of the park's $45.8 million annual budget.

Apart from wanting to help sustain and improve the park's infrastructure, Paulson said he was inspired to ensure one of the city's most open places continues to serve its entire population.

"Of all New York City's great cultural institutions, I believe Central Park is the most democratic," said Paulson. "It's open to people of all ages, all income levels, every race, religion and nationality. It's open every day and all day. It's enjoyed by millions of New Yorkers every year, and it's free."