Historic $25 Million Gift to Benefit New York Parks, Gardens

NEW YORK, New York, May 23, 2008 (ENS) – Mayor Michael Bloomberg and philanthropist Shelby White today announced that Ms. White’s Leon Levy Foundation is awarding $15 million to The New York Botanical Garden and $10 million to Prospect Park – the largest private donation in city history for the “greening” of New York.

The $10 million grant to Prospect Park will fund the Park’s Lakeside Center, a 26-acre area that will be restored to the original design of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who co-designed New York’s world famous Central Park.

The $15 million grant to The New York Botanical Garden will create a new Native Plant Garden for the study and display of indigenous species.

The Rock Garden at New York Botanical
Garden will be adjacent to the new
Native Plants Garden. (Photo
courtesy New York Botanical Garden)

Gregory Long, president and CEO of the Botanical Garden, said, “We are deeply grateful to our Board member Shelby White and Leon Levy, her late husband and friend of the Garden, as well as Leon Levy Foundation trustee Liz Moynihan, for their stewardship of this historic landscape.”

“Liz,” is Elizabeth Moynihan, the widow of four-term Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served the people of New York from 1977 to 2001.

“With this gift,” said Long, “they are helping us create an inviting new garden, address pressing conservation issues, and educate our visitors and the public about the significance and beauty of native plants.”

“The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx and Prospect Park in Brooklyn are two of our city’s greatest green treasures,” said White, founding trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation.

“Both are particularly meaningful to me,” she said. “I played in Prospect Park as a child growing up in Brooklyn, and I have served as a board member of the New York Botanical Garden for many years.”

“The Botanical Garden’s new Native Plant Garden and Prospect Park’s restoration project will only strengthen these two extraordinary institutions,” said White.

With its $15 million grant, the New York Botanical Garden will create a new garden on 3.5 acres adjacent to the native forest as a center for the study and display of plants native to the northeastern United States.

The new Native Plant Garden will allow the Botanical Garden to better serve the growing interest in native flora inspired by concerns about invasive species and climate change, said Long. This garden will be one of the first projects in the Botanical Garden’s long-term $100 million Master Plan.

The largest grant ever received by Prospect Park will go toward the planned 26 acre Lakeside Center restoration project. It will help enable the Prospect Park Alliance to restore the park’s historic Music Island, Lakeside Promenade and views from the Concert Grove Terrace to their original design as envisioned by Olmsted and Vaux.

The grant will fund the demolition of Wollman Ice Rink and bring back the area’s native trees, shrubs and scenic aquatics. New rinks will be built nearby. Music Island will be rebuilt as a natural habitat sanctuary, pedestrian viewing paths will be restored along the Lake edge, and invasive aquatic reeds will be removed.

“These generous gifts are going to two signature New York institutions and they are an impressive addition to the legacy of the Leon Levy foundation,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “The impact of these gifts will be felt for decades.”

Levy, who died in 2003, was, according to his obituary in “Forbes” magazine, a “Wall Street investment genius and prolific philanthropist,” who helped create both mutual funds and hedge funds.

He co-founded the mutual fund manager Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. in 1959. There he started dozens of mutual funds that, at his death, had grown to manage more than $120 billion. In 1982 he sold Oppenheimer to the U.K.’s Mercantile House for $162 million and co-founded Odyssey Partners, a private investment partnership. It grew to be a $3 billion hedge fund before it was dissolved in 1997.

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