The two ice rinks in Central Park, memory-makers for generations of New Yorkers, are set to close Sunday after the city moved to end contracts with the Trump Organization following the Capitol riot.
Despite former President Donald J. Trump’s unpopularity in his home city, the shutdown comes as a blow to New Yorkers during the pandemic, when outdoor entertainment has taken on extra importance after nearly a year of quarantine and social distancing.
Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink, which the Trump Organization has operated since the 1980s, are to close at the end of business Sunday, the company said in a notice sent to parents of students in skating programs and posted at Wollman. The Trump Organization blamed the city for giving the company a Feb. 26 deadline to clear out and said it needed to close a few days earlier.
Bids for a new vendor for Wollman are due March 19, and it was unclear why the city set the Feb. 26 deadline. Lasker had been expected to shut for renovations, but not until the spring. The parks department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On Sunday, a line of some 100 people snaked outside Lasker Rink at the northern end of Central Park, with skating fans hoping to get one last go on the ice before the rink closed. Many families with young children waited in line toting bags of skating equipment while toddlers peered down on the rink.
“I wish the politics didn’t get involved in it,” said Reuben Katz, 11, who was wearing a New York Islanders sweatshirt and said he came weekly with his family during the pandemic.
“I’m just a little surprised,” Reuben said. “I thought we were going to have another one or two months to go skating here. It’s a little annoying.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said last month that the city would terminate the contracts in response to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and would seek other vendors to operate the sites.
“The president incited a rebellion against the United States government — clearly an unconstitutional act and people died. That’s unforgivable,” Mr. de Blasio said at the time. “The City of New York will no longer have anything to do with the Trump Organization.”
The Trump Organization has vowed to fight the move in court; Mr. de Blasio has said the city had the right to cancel the contract because the violence in Washington qualified as criminal activity.
“The City of New York has no legal right to end our contracts, and if they elect to proceed, they will owe the Trump Organization over $30 million,” a Trump Organization spokeswoman said last month, calling the decision “political discrimination.”
Eric Trump, the former president’s son and the executive vice president of the Trump Organization, questioned the city’s priorities and said the move would leave 250 people out of work.
“Why — to try and get back at a person who sits on a different side of the political aisle who now lives in Florida,” he said in a statement on Sunday. “Let’s cancel kids’ hockey programs, skating schools and shut them down six weeks early … that will show Trump.”
Complaints about the gap in operations appeared to transcend politics.
“As lifelong Democrats, we are disappointed that de Blasio would play politics and shut down a Covid-friendly activity for city kids,” said Gideon Katz, 46, Reuben’s father.
Several hand drawn signs had been posted near the entrance to Wollman Rink, including “We ️❤️ Wollman Rink!” and “SAVE OUR RINKS.” One sign reading “5 More Weeks” included a link to a change.org petition that had garnered over 5,000 signatures by early Sunday afternoon.
Wollman Rink, at the southern end of Central Park, and Lasker Rink, at its northern tip, serve casual skaters, children’s hockey teams and tourists. The Trump Organization also operates a third classic New York site, the Central Park Carousel, known for its antique carved wooden horses.
The company also operates a golf course in the Bronx, Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point. The city said that contract is more complex and could take more time to terminate.
It is unclear when the city will be able to reopen the rinks, or if it will be difficult to find willing operators during a pandemic and economic downturn.
Mr. Trump was once seen as the savior of Wollman Rink, which first opened in 1950 and closed in 1980 for renovations, only to languish for six years.
In 1986, a far different time for Mr. Trump and his hometown, he was lauded for bringing the rink back to life.
Mr. Trump offered to do the work without seeking a profit. In the end, his company oversaw the reopening, and city officials said the work came in under budget. The reopening, with Trump’s name added ahead of “Wollman,” came three years after Trump Tower opened on Fifth Avenue, enhancing Mr. Trump’s celebrity status.
He reopened the rink ahead of his own schedule, a feat that helped build the can-do reputation he parlayed into his character on “The Apprentice,” and later the presidency.
Téa Kvetenadze contributed reporting.