In 1988, Donald Trump wanted to repair the Williamsburg Bridge, but the Mayor said no thanks

August 30, 2018

Williamsburg Bridge and Donald Trump via Wiki Commons

In addition to thinking he could own the Empire State Building and build the tallest building in the world, Donald Trump also had a pipedream of single-handedly repairing the Williamsburg Bridge in 1988. Yesterday, Gothamist’s Editorial Director Jen Carlson tweeted a series of stories from the time detailing how the Donald presented the city with a proposition to get the necessary repairs (the then-85-year-old bridge was closed due to cracked and corroded beams) done quicker and cheaper. According to the Associated Press, “Trump said the deal could work the same way as [Central Park’s Wollman Rink] construction in 1986 – he would advance the money, get the job done and be reimbursed for costs.”

Trump toured the Bridge in April of 1988, a week after it was closed for structural issues. At the time, it carried an average of 240,000 commuters a day via car or subway. Alfred DelliBovi, a former Republican state legislator from Queens who was then running the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration, invited Trump up to see what he felt was a “municipal failure” and a repair job that the private sector should have taken over. This was likely a dig at Democratic Mayor Ed Koch, with whom Trump notoriously also had a beef.

Koch and Trump first began feuding over a tax abatement for Trump Trump and Trump’s proposed Television City project. While this was going on in the late ’80s, as the Times recounted shortly after Koch’s death in 2017:

Mr. Trump had already characterized the mayor as a “moron,” and concluded: “Koch has achieved something quite miraculous. He’s presided over an administration that is both pervasively corrupt and totally incompetent.”

(Sound familiar?) Therefore, when Trump threw his hat in the ring to repair the Williamsburg Bridge, Koch was less than thrilled. He already felt the developer was “greedy” and would later write that “I wouldn’t believe Donald Trump if his tongue were notarized.”

During his tour of the Bridge, which his PR team heavily promoted, Trump said he would put as much as $250 million of his own money towards the rehabilitation if the city committed to reimbursing him with no interest. ”I’m willing to do it if they want me – that’s my attitude,” he said. When asked how he’d accomplish this with no experience in infrastructure development, he pointed towards how he got Wollan Rink up and running in less than four months when the city had taken six years and $12 million to no avail. But as 6sqft previously explained, this wasn’t out of the goodness of his heart: “A Trump-owned company, in partnership with another company, continues to operate the rink. The city takes a percentage of any profits, but the two companies get more than two-thirds.”

In response to Trump’s bridge bid, the Koch administration’s Transporation Commissioner, Ross Sandler, said, “If any individual wants to contribute to the cost of the bridge he can, [but there is] no reason to turn control of this bridge over to a private entity.” Similarly, the Mayor countered that Trump’s resources would be better spent on building affordable housing without a profit. “When he has done that, then we can go on to other things,” he said at a housing rally. There was also the issue that contracts using state or Federal money required “open, competitive bidding,” according to a Times article.

Rendering via Der Scutt

Interestingly, one of the architects who threw his name in the ring to rebuild the bridge (a city/state advisory group had asked engineering firms to submit drawings) was Der Scutt, who most notably designed Trump Tower. Scutt’s proposal, naturally, was overtly flashy, covering the entire structure in bronze mirrors. As Gothamist tells us, it would have had a two-story restaurant/bar at the top of one of the towers and a bridge history museum in the other, both of which would’ve been reached via glass elevators.

Ultimately, Mayor Koch decided it would be cheaper to renovate the bridge in phases in order to keep it open. The $850 million undertaking used city, state, and Federal funds. And in perhaps the most ironic twist, now that Trump is President, he has yet to commit any substantial Federal funds to New York City’s dire infrastructure needs.


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