Plan for Trump to Run a Bronx Golf Course Has Critics

The dream seemed readily attainable: take 222 acres of blighted parkland in the Bronx and convert it into the city’s first championship golf course, one capable of playing host to the United States Open on the banks of the East River. But nothing about the planned golf course at Ferry Point Park has been easy. And now, some watchdog groups are questioning a proposed deal that would allow Donald J. Trump to operate the course. Under the terms, Mr. Trump’s company would pay a small fraction of the licensing and development fees a previous vendor agreed to more than a decade ago, even as it charges greens fees about three times as high as those at the city’s other public courses.

The deal, which needs the approval of the city’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee, comes as the estimated costs to develop the course and related facilities have skyrocketed. In 2000, the city estimated the project would cost $22 million, all of it to be picked up by a developer, who would also operate the course.

That arrangement fell through, and the city now estimates that the development, which includes a driving range and a waterfront esplanade, is to cost more than $180 million to build, making it one of the most expensive municipal golf courses in the country, with all but a fraction to be paid by taxpayers.

Critics said the deal with Mr. Trump’s company was unlikely to generate enough revenue to pay for the ballooning costs.

“We’ve seen time and time again this administration giving away our parkland for commercial purposes,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Parks Advocates, a nonprofit group. “But now, we’re supposed to not make money.”

Bettina Damiani, director of Good Jobs New York, an advocacy group that tracks government subsidies, called the deal one in a “troubling history” of taxpayer subsidies to sporting venues.

Mr. Trump’s company, Trump National and International Golf Clubs, operates 10 courses in North America and Europe, according to its Web site.

Under the Ferry Point proposal, the company, known as Trump Golf, would pay $10 million to build a clubhouse and would pay no licensing fees the first four years of the 20-year deal. In Year 5, the company would pay the greater of $300,000 or 7 percent of annual gross revenues. The amount would rise annually, ending in Year 20 at the greater of $470,000 or 10 percent of gross revenues. Trump Golf would also be required to pay 3 percent of gross revenues generated by any other sublicensed vendors at the golf course.

The course, now under construction on a former landfill in the shadow of the Whitestone Bridge in the southeast Bronx, is expected to be completed by the fall of 2013 and ready for play by the following spring.

On Monday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defended the proposed arrangement with Mr. Trump’s company.

“I’m not sure he got a great deal,” Mr. Bloomberg said. He later added: “These are not terribly profitable things in this day and age. More golf courses are closing than opening across the country.”

Not so long ago, the proposed golf course seemed like a potential gold mine for the city.

In 2000, the city granted a developer, Ferry Point Partners, a 35-year lease in exchange for financing the project. The developer also promised to pay the city at least $1.25 million in annual licensing fees. But construction of the course, which was scheduled to open in 2001, was plagued by problems, including the discovery of toxic substances in the soil, including high levels of methane gas from rotting garbage beneath the site.

By the time the parks department voided the contract in 2006, contending the developer had failed to meet the terms, the cost of the project had jumped and the completion date had been pushed to 2009.

But efforts to find a new developer faltered, and in 2008, the city decided to build the course at its own expense, while seeking a private entity to operate it.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said on Monday that no one submitted offers until 2010, when three groups, including Mr. Trump’s, stepped forward. Parks officials said Mr. Trump’s bid was the best of the three offers, but his office declined on Monday to release the names and terms of the competing proposals.

Mr. Trump, in prepared testimony before the franchise committee on Monday, said that the project would bring much-needed revenue to the city and other benefits, including discounted youth and school athletic programs.

“For the first time in New York City history, we fully intend on bringing championship tour play to the Bronx,” he said.

The city’s franchise committee had been scheduled to vote on the deal on Wednesday but delayed the vote one week after the office of the Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., asked for more time to review the project.

Longtime proponents of the course, including the local community board and elected officials, praised the deal as long overdue, while acknowledging that they were still learning the details.

“I’m still assessing it, to be honest with you,” said City Councilman James Vacca, a Bronx Democrat. “But I’m just not going to accept any further delays.”

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