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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

"We didn't want to do a deal that depended on selling apartments for $1.5 million each to break even," says one executive close to the project.

Trump Castle, a model of which still occupies a windowsill in Trump's office, is not the only post-Tower project that has run into problems generated by Trump's expectations and renown.

Take the waterfall of adverse publicity over his plans to redevelop an old hotel and adjoining apartment building that he bought in 1981 on Central Park South, one of the city's most desirable streets. Trump embarked on a campaign to clear the apartment house of its more than 100 tenants, many of whom had below-market rents protected by the city's strict rent-control laws.

City and state officials and the tenants allege that this campaign has involved his filing nuisance lawsuits as well as eliminating heat and hot water and reducing security to the point that the number of burglaries after 18 months of Trump ownership surpassed the accumulated total of the previous 41 years.

But Trump steadfastly maintains that the building is occupied by "millionaires who send their limousines to pick up their lawyers." (In fact, many of the tenants testified during state proceedings that they are elderly and others said they are members of middle-class families who have passed the units down, like heirlooms, for a couple of generations.) Their intention, he complains, is to hector him into buying out their leases at six-figure prices. Responds David Rozenholc , the tenants' attorney: "I don't believe there's a number he could name that would get the tenants out now."

Could Be Blocked

If the state finds after hearings now under way that he harassed residents, Trump can be prevented from ever converting the building for his own planned use. His current plan is to redevelop the hotel alone. "I don't need them," he said of the tenants.

And there is wide conjecture over his plans for Lincoln West, the huge parcel that was the subject of that uptown community meeting. Trump faces a community uproar if he tries to outdo the previous owners' proposal, which called for four 60-story towers on the river. Trump envisions the tract, which he bought for $95 million, as the site of a $3.5-billion luxury development.

How well will it fit in with the adjoining neighborhood of brownstones and 15-story apartment houses? Trump's final design isn't public, but he provided a clue when he recently ridiculed the previous owners' design for having "no sense of the monumental." And he has told community leaders that he contemplates not 4,300 units but 6,300, arranged in eight towers--a plan so vast that it may become a political issue in this mayoral election year.

Donald Trump's name may not have glittered with today's incandescence when he started out in the mid-1970s, but that is not to say that he emerged from nowhere.

His father, Fred C. Trump, had been a successful developer in Brooklyn and Queens, and when Donald graduated from the Wharton School of Finance in 1968 he went into the family business. His first deal, he says, involved property in Forest Hills, later to become known as the home neighborhood of Geraldine Ferraro.

Promoted Rail Yard

The public first took notice in 1974, when he optioned an old rail yard from the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad and promoted it aggressively as a suitable site for the city's planned new Convention Center--although the city was already working on another site uptown.

Ultimately, the city saw it his way. "He was right," says City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, then a city councilman. Says Trump: "The convention center was a victory against the Establishment that nobody thought I was going to win."

But he really made his name with the next deal, the renovation of the decrepit Commodore Hotel, another Penn Central property located next to fabled Grand Central Terminal. Even Trump detractors agree that buying the hotel was a risky proposition, for the entire neighborhood was a virtual slum. The neighboring Chrysler building, a landmark, was in receivership and the rest of the area seemed to have few prospects.

In 1978, Trump paid $10 million for the Commodore. Before rebuilding, he insisted on and got a 40-year city tax abatement worth nearly $60 million. The entire deal was enveloped in the aura of political influence, generated chiefly by the family's connections to the Brooklyn political machine that had produced then-Gov. Hugh L. Carey, one of whose trusted fund-raisers was on Trump's payroll as a lobbyist.

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