NYU names new building after hedge fund leader John Paulson

NEW YORK (AP) — Ten years after receiving it, New York University made public a $100 million gift from the hedge fund leader John Paulson, who made a fortune in the U.S. housing crisis, to support the construction of a now mostly-complete building that will also be named after him.

The donation announced Wednesday comes before the building, which is the largest on the NYU Washington Square campus, is scheduled to open in January. Estimated to cost over $1.2 billion, it’s been under construction since 2016 and will be named the John A. Paulson Center.

Paulson made the gift in 2012 through his foundation, John Beckman, a spokesperson for NYU, said.

Paulson was a hedge fund manager who bet against the housing market and managed to find the “perfect” way to profit from its eventual spiral, said Gregory Zuckerman, a Wall Street Journal reporter and author of “The Greatest Trade Ever,” which chronicles how Paulson’s firm made more than $15 billion in 2007-2008.

“The reason why the global economy crumbled was because of risky mortgages that were handed out left and right,” Zuckerman said. While others also figured out how to profit from the downturn, he said, “No one came close to John Paulson and his colleagues.”

This is not the first donation Paulson has made to NYU, one of his alma maters. In 2009, he donated $20 million to its business school to support renovations, endow two professorships and fund scholarships. He has also previously gifted $400 million to Harvard University, which he also attended.

The NYU building is part of the university’s expansion plan, first envisioned by its former president, John Sexton. A coalition of neighborhood groups and individuals opposed the construction for years, winning a small reduction in its size by the time the New York City Council eventually approved it in 2012.

Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which was among the groups that opposed construction, said he was surprised anyone would want to attach their name to the project.

“It sadly illustrates the vicious cycle behind these projects, which is they are often built not to satisfy a need, but to secure funding from billionaires who want to see their names etched in oversized glass and concrete forever,” Berman said in an email.

The building on Mercer Street includes a swimming pool, basketball courts, dorms and faculty housing, a 350-seat theater and an orchestral rehearsal hall. It exceeds the city’s requirements for low energy use and includes rooftop gardens, the university said.

Zuckerman called Paulson, who was born in Queens, a New Yorker “through and through,” who still will walk in Central Park (he’s also donated $100 million to the conservancy that runs the park) and will attend the U.S. Open. The Paulson Family Foundation lists donations to many of the city’s major cultural institutions in tax returns.

“I do believe that education is the great equalizer and provides a pathway for both economic and social mobility,” Paulson said in a prepared statement. He credited Sexton, the former NYU president, for first helping to conceive the gift. The foundation did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment.

Donation data collected by Candid, a nonprofit that researches philanthropic giving, shows that Paulson’s foundation made $20 million donations to NYU in 2014, 2017 and 2019 as well as smaller donations in other years. Beckman confirmed the university had received the entire pledged amount.

Paulson has also given millions of dollars to back Republican candidates, including former President Donald Trump, according to Federal Election Commission data. He served as an economic advisor under Trump.

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