On The Avenue

Ice, Ice Baby

by Kelly Laffey Photographed by Neil Rasmus/BFA.com
Friday, December 8, 2017

The weather outside was frightful, but inside a heated tent near the 72nd Street Transverse, the mood was delightful, as the Central Park Conservancy celebrated its inaugural Belvedere Ball.

The event honored outgoing Conservancy President and CEO Doug Blonsky, who has been with the organization for the past 32 years.

“Nights like these are so important on so many levels. It raises serious money for the park, and it’s a celebration of everything we do,” said Blonsky. “Do you know how many people I’ve known for 30 years that are here tonight? And we’re still together. I think that’s really rare.”

The Belvedere Ball replaced the Conservancy’s annual Fall Gala, which was moved due to scheduling conflicts with other New York City nonprofit galas. “We’re all involved in so many different organizations, and the holidays get crazy later, but this is sort of a sweet spot,'” said event co-chair Gillian Miniter. “We thought it would be fun to have a winter ice theme, and we went with Belvedere Ball because we’re about to renovate Belvedere Castle.” Blonsky also commented that his favorite time of year in the park is winter. “Once all the leaves drop, it’s a whole different park. You can really understand the undulation and the contours.”

Though he was honored that the evening celebrated him, Blonsky admitted that he’s not someone who enjoys being the center of attention. “But if Gillian asks you to do something, you do it.”

Miniter commented, “We had to do something big for [Blonsky]. This was a great way to get all of the trustees together to honor him. But this is not a night of speeches. This is a dance party.”

True to her word, the event kicked off with a cocktail hour, followed by a seated dinner and short video celebrating Blonsky and, later, DJ and dancing. As the night wound down, the young associates kept the evening going at an after-party at The Empire Hotel.

The Central Park Conservancy was founded in 1980, and Blonsky has been with the organization almost as long. “If you keep going, you can restore anything,” he said in the video. “But it’s maintaining [that’s a challenge].” The Conservancy provides 75 percent of the park’s operating budget. Throughout the night, guests talked about how far the park has come in the past 30-plus years, as it’s transitioned from a dangerous, unkempt open space to an urban oasis that now attracts 42 million visitors annually.

Among the highlights of Blonsky’s tenure is a new partnership with the City University of New York to create a program in parks management. He closed out his speech by thanking his wife Mai, who he met in the park—the two went on their first date there, but she apparently didn’t know it at the time, he joked—and by recounting advice given to him by one of the Conservancy’s founders.

“He said, ‘Doug, remember it’s about the guy on the bench reading the paper and enjoying a cup of coffee and appreciating the surroundings.’ Well, it’s my turn to be that guy on the bench — see you in the park.”

In addition Gillian & Sylvester Miniter, the event co-chairs were Shelly & Michael Carr, Kitty & Tom Kempner, and Jenny & John Paulson, were joined by Vice Chairs Elizabeth H. Atwood and Judy & Russ Carson. Following the dinner, Young Associate guests chaired by Nicholas D’Angelo, Samuel P.C. Dangremond, Meggie Kempner, and Catherine Smith, joined the party for dessert and dancing with music by DJ Kiss.

Notable attendees included: Suzie & Ainar Aijala, Norma Dana, Fe Fendi, Hilary Gumbel, Anne & Bill Harrison, Rachel Hovnanian, Susan & Henry Johnson, Gayle King, Violetta Komyshan, Alexandra Lebenthal & Jay Diamond, Tonya Lee, Alexia & David Leuschen, Marcia & Richard Mishaan, Elyse & Michael Newhouse, Liz & Jeff Peek, Deborah Roberts, Malaak Rock, Fiona Rudin, Robert Soros, Betsy Smith & Rick Cotton, and Michelle Smith.



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