In a tent decorated with pineapples and rattan chandeliers, John Paulson watched the Broadway theater owner James Nederlander raise his paddle — with barely any coaxing from auctioneer Lydia Fenet — and donate $65,000.
The moment Saturday night at Southampton Hospital’s 65th annual Summer Party was a stark contrast to the one Paulson recounted about a recent day in Manhattan.
At a Duane Reade on Fifth Avenue, the 67-year-old billionaire said he’d watched someone empty shelves to fill a cart and then walk out without paying.
“New York City is definitely deteriorating, the quality of life and the quality of services,” said Paulson, who’s still a city resident.
The former hedge fund manager feels very differently about the community on the East End where he’s long had a home and supported the hospital, including its latest campaign to close its outdated facility and build a new one elsewhere.
“Southampton is an oasis, it’s so well run, it’s quiet, services are excellent, crime is very low,” Paulson said. He had similar things to say about Palm Beach, Florida, where he bought a home in 2021 and has recently made one of his first donations to redo Phipps Ocean Park.
Migrations and the shift to remote work have put New York in a vulnerable spot, while increasing the appeal of other places. The swath of wealthy New Yorkers at the height of the pandemic who sought refuge in Southampton and Palm Beach have boosted the quality of life for these long-linked resort towns, with a mutual affection for pink linen and clubs.
Now, with the return to big social events, global travel and office life, the question is how much New York will recede or resurge in its historic dominance as the primary/work/school destination of the three-legged social circuit, and what the rhythms of the seasons will look like.
The answer, at least on Saturday evening, was that even those who’ve left don’t want to skip it all together.
“I talked to 22-23 people that moved to Florida,” said Howard Lorber, chairman of Douglas Elliman Realty. “Every one of them had a big apartment or a townhouse in New York — and not one of them sold. So I have a view that New York City is going to become the number one second-home market to the world.”
“I get to be a tourist,” said Simone Levinson, who has made Palm Beach her primary home and spends most of the summer in Southampton, where she has helped turn the Southampton Arts Center into a required in-town stop.
Levinson has shed some New York philanthropic commitments and picked up new ones in Palm Beach. But she’s still bullish on New York, where she grew up, and where her developer husband David Levinson has a big hand in the new 425 Park office building and Times Square destination TSX Broadway.
“To those who say New York is not the same, my response is, ‘When has New York ever been the same?’ I’m still mourning the closing of Maxwell’s Plum. There’s this infectious energy in the city that’s unmatched.”
Still, the city’s governance drew concern. “New York needs new management,” Wilbur Ross said.
Lorber said that while he’s a fan of Mayor Eric Adams, “the problem is the city council.” Grocery store magnate John Catsimatidis said more wealthy residents may choose to live elsewhere “if we don’t fix New York fast.”
“Friday night, we went out to dinner, and going home down Park Avenue not a light was on,” said Catsimatidis, a former mayoral candidate. “I can buy a new $100 million corporate jet and live in New York Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and pay no taxes and pay for the jet that way.”
Saturday night’s event, which raised more than $2 million, took as its theme the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach — a nod to the fact that some of those attending now spend more time in South Florida. Seeing the Colony’s golf carts parked on the lawn, the canopy of bougainvillea over the bar and Swifty’s crabcake on the menu got many of those transplants excited about their return to Palm Beach in the winter.
But for some, it was just a pretty party.
“Where’s the Colony Hotel?” quipped a younger guest, just one of dozens of full-time Manhattanites who showed up in full splendor as weekenders in Southampton.
There were some senior finance executives in that category too, including Andrew Wetenhall, who with his wife Sarah owns the Colony Hotel, as well as Jeff McDermott, Steve Klinsky, Martin Brand and Malcolm Price, who on Monday started a new job at Wells Fargo after spending some of his garden leave at the beach.