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Billionaire’s $100M Central Park Donation: PR Win?

Yesterday New York’s Central Park experienced one of its most notable events since the installation of Christos temporary art project The Gates in winter 2005: billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson and the Paulson Family Foundation donated $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy. According to Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News, “It is believed to be the biggest single gift ever made to park land.”

The New York Times reported on the rationale behind Paulson’s philanthropy: at Tuesday’s press conference announcing the donation, Paulson said, “Central Park is among the most deserving of all of New York’s cultural institutions. And I wanted the gift to make a difference”. The funds will be evenly divided between the park’s endowment and capital improvements.

Paulson joined the Central Park Conservancy board in June, and he has supported the group for 20 years. According to Forbes, this gift far exceeds Paulson’s earlier philanthropic commitments, placing him “in a league with several of his most charitable peers atop New York City’s alternative asset management universe.”

Conservancy officials expressed delight at the bequest–president and CEO Doug Blonsky hailed the gift as “transformational,” saying it will enable the park to break its cycle of restoration and decline.

Paulson’s financial career has also experienced several ups and downs. He founded his hedge fund management company, Paulson & Co, in 1994 and became a billionaire in 2007, making most of his money by shorting subprime loans and effectively rooting for the collapse of the real estate market.

Two years ago the SEC filed a lawsuit against Goldman Sachs involving an investment Paulson had played a role in creating, though Paulson was not named in the suit. More recently his net worth has declined sharply. As Forbes pointed out, his largest funds have suffered double digit losses over the past couple years, losing the support of institutional investors such as Citigroup in the process.

Paulson grew up in Queens and currently lives half a block from Central Park–he visits the park every day to run or cycle, and his four-story townhouse (right) served as a target for Occupy Wall Street protesters last year.

Paulson is now regarded unfavorably by much of the American public and the political class. Will this gift help to restore his image? If so, how quickly will the turnaround happen? Let us know in the comments.

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