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DONALD J TRUMP : N.Y.'s 'Landlord' May Be Shopping on the West Coast

February 28, 1988|MICHAEL A. HILTZIK | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — On one side of the table was the head of a tenants committee and the group's aggressive grass-roots lawyer. On the other side, Donald J. Trump, landlord, was airing out one of the most useful tools in his negotiating arsenal: his exceptionally ingratiating line of flattery.

"We met for a three- or four-hour lunch, and he spent the first two hours complimenting me," recalled David Rosenholc, a lawyer who was more accustomed to dealing with thuggish slumlords than with the blond, honey-tongued, expensively tailored developer of multimillion-dollar high-rise aeries.

Rosenholc had fought Trump to a standstill over his attempt to evict the tenants of a distinguished old apartment house at 100 Central Park South in order to convert it into yet another brand-name luxury condo building. Trump's managers had let the building services deteriorate, stripped the lobby of even its Christmas tree and brought innocent tenants up on rent non-payment charges.

As a result, the tenants stood to win a highly damaging and embarrassing harassment case against Trump.

As negotiations dragged on, Rosenholc took the floor and shut down the river of flattery with a blunt expletive. Soon after that, Trump capitulated with a settlement that gave the tenants even more rights than they might have won under a city order.

Not that Trump did not get in the last word. In his best-selling book, "Trump: The Art of the Deal," he dismissed the tenants as people "for whom hardship is not being able to get a table on 30 minutes notice at Le Cirque," New York's toniest restaurant.

In any case, he wrote, he eventually made more than $100 million from 100 Central Park South and the building next door.

Thus did Donald Trump turn one of his few public relations disasters (New York magazine had featured the dispute under the headline, "A Different Donald Trump Story") into yet another self-congratulatory anecdote for his best-selling autobiography.

Of course, no one would claim that Trump has ever been weak on self-promotion. Since 1980, he has been New York's most visible and extravagant real estate man, plastering his name over Manhattan island like the label on a pair of designer jeans.

Now the question on people's minds is whether Trump is preparing for a jump to the West Coast. What inspires the speculation is the announcement by MCA on Feb. 12 that Trump has disclosed a holding of $15 million of the huge entertainment conglomerate's stock (less than 1%) and was considering buying as much as 24.9%.

Followers of the corporate raiding fraternity might not be so impressed, because in the course of making hundreds of millions of dollars on the stock of a handful of important hotel-, gaming- and real estate-rich companies during a two-year prowl of the stock market, he has only once mounted a genuine takeover. Some Trump followers speculate that he really has his eyes on MCA's generous holdings of real estate in Southern California and Florida.

But it does appear that Trump's name can work its magic on the stock exchange as well as on the New York housing market: MCA shares have risen more than 15%, to $46.25, since the Feb. 12 disclosure.

Trump has had close to a decade of experience in turning expectations and promotion into hard profits.

On Fifth Avenue, Trump Tower, with its glittering brass appointments and glitzy pink marble retail lobby, has long since replaced the staid marble mansions and apartment houses a few blocks further uptown as the popular symbol of luxury living. Across town, Trump Plaza has helped convert the Upper East Side from a neighborhood of townhouses and middle-class apartment blocks into an overbuilt community of high-rise pied-a - terre .

Moving afield, Trump stands likely to soon become the largest casino owner in Atlantic City, N.J., where his Trump Plaza and Trump's Castle casinos are among the gambling town's most heavily marketed and most successful. And now the developer, an owner of the New Jersey Generals of the defunct United States Football League (and moving force behind its ill-starred plan to compete with the National Football League on an autumn football schedule), is expressing interest in a bid for ownership of the NFL's troubled New England Patriots.

He even maneuvered himself into a brief spot in the national political limelight by journeying up to New Hampshire late last year to give a speech on, of all things, foreign policy.

Trump's theme, articulated simultaneously in full-page ads in the New York Times and Boston Globe, was that America should force its rich partners, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Japan, to pay for the military protection they received from U.S. armed forces.

Speech, Then Speculation

Back in New York, he luxuriated in the speculation that he might consider a run for public office.

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