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Towering Presence in New York : Donald Trump Stirs Controversy With Grandiose Structures

April 07, 1985|MICHAEL A. HILTZIK | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — It was an uneasy crowd that gathered one January evening in an uptown Manhattan YMCA to meet Donald Trump, the developer of grandiose apartment towers who had become their new neighbor by purchasing a huge parcel of prime land overlooking the Hudson River.

Trump has a reputation for getting his own way, overcoming skepticism and opposition to erect 50- and 60-story condominium buildings that make a distinctive statement largely by overwhelming their surroundings.

To these neighbors, concerned about the impact of 15,000 people swarming from a new Trump complex onto their overused subway platforms and calling for help from their single police precinct house, the proper disposition of Trump's 100-acre acquisition would be parkland, not 60-story luxury condominium towers.

Trump started graciously, extracting applause with the remark, "One of the reasons I am here tonight is not to tell you what I want to build, but to ask you people what you want." But he left scarce doubt about whose decision would be final, and on what terms. "I know what in my opinion the community needs," he said. And the final design for the parcel would be based on "economics."

If the neighbors had any notions that they might dissuade him from erecting a complex that might turn their neighborhood from one of quiet brownstone streets into a busy adjunct to a Trump project, they were melting away.

"I don't see you as building villages, Mr. Trump," one woman said. "You build signature buildings. Geoffrey Beene, Gucci, Donald Trump."

Indeed, over the last five years, Donald Trump's signature has appeared over New York like the label on a pair of designer jeans. The prices of units in his best-known buildings are pitched so high that their buyers are often corporations rather than individuals, the epitome of a real-estate market that promotes increasing economic disparity in the central city, where the very poor and the very wealthy coexist, the middle class having been elbowed off a Manhattan that increasingly resembles an island boutique geographically centered at the bronze-glazed, 50-story Trump Tower on 5th Avenue, next door to Tiffany & Co.

Since 1980, Trump has built three major Manhattan buildings--the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Trump Plaza and Trump Tower--and an Atlantic City casino. In August, 1983, the New York Times photographed him sitting on a bronze T in the marbled foyer of Trump Tower and ordained him a "brash Adonis." New York magazine categorized his exploits, business and social, as "Trumping the Town." And he has gained renown outside of New York with his ownership of the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, for whom he signed Doug Flutie, the exciting Boston College quarterback, promptly upon Flutie's graduation.

As New York's most visible developer, Trump commands the allegiance of its most influential financial institutions. His partner in building Trump Tower, Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, recognized his uniquely personal contribution to the project with a policy on Trump's life, payable to the partnership, for $20 million. Prudential Life Insurance Co., eager to develop a Madison Avenue site for condominiums, gave Trump a 49% interest in the project with no requirement that he put up any money.

Unusual Credit Line

By 1981, when only the Grand Hyatt was open and the other buildings were in early stages, Trump had a personal credit line from Chase Manhattan Bank, unsecured, subject to no written agreement and payable at the prime rate, of $35 million--a "flexible sum," Chase bankers told the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. In July, 1981, when New Jersey authorities checked, Trump's "regular" cash checking account at Chase had an average monthly balance of $384,000.

The "relatively unusual" credit line still exists, a Chase source says. "He's good for it; he has a lot of relationships with the bank."

And on August 31, 1982, according to New Jersey records, Trump--whose wife, Ivana, is a former model and former member of the Czech Olympic ski team and oversees the interior design of Trump projects--had a personal net worth of $321 million. It had not changed "significantly" by April, 1984, a Trump lieutenant testified later.

Trump's penchant for grandiose promotion is exemplified by Trump Tower, a John Hancock among signature buildings, marketed with unrestrained appeal to self-indulgence. As the narrator says on a film strip produced to promote the place (Frank Sinatra crooning "New York, New York" in the background), in Manhattan "any wish, no matter how opulent or unusual, can be satisfied."

Trump intended Trump Tower to have the same impact for Manhattan that he envisaged his casino having for Atlantic City. Applying for a casino license in Atlantic City in 1982, Trump told the New Jersey Casino Control Commission that his building would be "a big step for Atlantic City" because the burgeoning gambling island "needs some pizazz."

Need Is for Shelter

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