Central Park isn’t just a place for kids and dogs to frolic. It’s where titans of Wall Street get some work done. This includes the labor of putting on a tuxedo, and mingling and dancing to an orchestra as Steve Schwarzman did Wednesday night in the Conservatory Garden, helping raise $2.8 million to support the Central Park Conservancy. And it includes actual work. “I sometimes come in, sit on a bench and read investment-committee memos,” said Schwarzman, chief executive officer of Blackstone.

“Next week, I’m meeting a CEO to have a coffee in the park,” said Dusty Philip, co-chair of global M&A at Goldman Sachs. “Being outside solves a lot of Covid worries.”

Since Covid hit New York, Craig Huff, co-CEO of Reservoir Capital, has been in the park every day. “I walk while I’m on conference calls in the afternoons,” he said.

Central Park has gotten a lot of use during the pandemic, a year where New Yorkers took advantage of the absence of tourists. The Conservancy has worked hard to keep up, collecting record amounts of garbage and taking fences down around grassy areas so families and friends could picnic and play.

Earlier this month, the Conservancy broke ground on a $150 million project in the north end of the park to replace the Lasker Rink and Pool with the Harlem Meer Center. That’s one of 150 projects the group has taken on since its founding in 1980, representing more than $1 billion in private donations to restore playgrounds, the Sheep Meadow and the Great Lawn, to name a few. And not just restore, but bring back to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux glory from a state of neglect following the city’s fiscal crisis.

The woman who started it all, Betsy Barlow Rogers, who took the title Central Park administrator and forged a model of public-private partnership that has been copied many times over, sat at the event with some of the others who got the effort off the ground. Gordon Davis was parks commissioner; Lewis Bernard, who became a partner at Morgan Stanley in 1973, helped raise money. 

“A lot of people said we’d never succeed,” Bernard said of his efforts with the late Richard Gilder, a fellow financier. “We went to donor after donor who said, ‘No. Why would we give money to the park?’ Now people fall all over themselves to give.” 

The challenge for the Conservancy going forward is to lure donations for routine maintenance of the park, rather than for just the big, sexy projects with dramatic before-and-after visuals, said Conservancy CEO Betsy Smith. To get started, the group is launching a campaign titled “For All.” 

Wednesday’s event was a 40th anniversary celebration of the Conservancy — a year late because of the pandemic — and a litmus test for how New York will get back to normal.  

“These events are essential to the vitality of the city,” said Joe Bae, co-president of KKR. “I’m glad New York is back and we’re able to gather safely.”

Vaccination was required to attend, and the 400 or so guests generally didn’t wear masks. They included Tony Yoseloff, Wilbur Ross, Russell Carson and Kelly Coffey, CEO of City National Bank, whose firm helped underwrite the event, which raised $2.8 million. The tent was only about half-filled with furniture, people, a dance floor, a photo station and a big arch made of greenery. 

“This tent is the nicest tent in New York ever,” Martha Stewart said. “It’s airy and open with lots of space. It’s what we need right now.”  

After cooking so much at home in Bedford during the pandemic, Stewart said it was “relaxing” to consume the gala meal: burrata with tomatoes, and halibut with mango pepper relish. The dessert was called “Strawberry Fields,” with dehydrated and fresh fruit. To top it off, iced donuts came out on art deco bar carts.

“It’s nice to be with your friends, and meet some other people for a cause that’s really important,” Schwarzman said. “I’m happy to be here.”