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And the Winner Is ... Real Estate Mogul on the Prowl for Location

Donald Trump has choices, but will he be welcome?

November 15, 2002|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

Is Los Angeles ready for more of The Donald?

New York real estate mogul Donald Trump swept into town last weekend to tout his purchase of the Ocean Trails Golf Course in Rancho Palos Verdes, telling one and all that he hoped to soon change the name to Trump National Golf Course.

Yet his acquisition of the links is unlikely to sate his urge to make a mark on the City of Angels, Trump himself admitted. Another Trump Something-or-Other is bound to spring up on the L.A. horizon before too long.

In an interview, Trump noted that he likes to do more than one real estate project in an area, and that he intends to get another going here within 18 months. "I would not be surprised if I came to Los Angeles and built Trump Tower," he said Saturday.

Since then, real estate industry veterans have been speculating about where the flamboyant 56-year-old developer -- who ran into serious financial trouble in the early 1990s, only to rise again -- may try to locate his next Los Angeles-area showpiece.

In Manhattan, Trump Tower is a 58-story residential complex, where units sell for as much as $13 million and a five-story atrium boasts retailers such as Cartier & Asprey and Salvatore Ferragamo.

So, where might a West Coast version appear?

Among the most logical locations in Southern California to build large-scale luxury housing is downtown Los Angeles, which is enjoying something of a residential renaissance after half a century of stagnation. Yet many believe center-city L.A. may not meet Trump's standards for sizzle.

"He lives in Trump Tower, the eye of the hurricane," said John Cushman, chairman of real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield and a friend of Trump's. "Restaurants, hotels, fancy people -- it's a world that's full of pizazz and style."

Trump raised some hackles when he told The Times earlier that downtown Los Angeles "has heretofore been sort of a depressing place."

The qualifying "heretofore" may be significant, though.

Trump made a point to say that downtown is not out of the question, and he acknowledged that he recently took a look at a possible remaking of Transamerica Center, three dowdy 1960s office high-rises that sit southeast of L.A.'s financial district. The signature 32-story tower on Olive Street and two smaller buildings nearby, a source said, are being purchased from Dutch insurance company Aegon for $85 million by New Pacific Realty, a Beverly Hills firm.

Trump said he was asked to consider whether he'd lend his name to a project in which the property would be converted to residential and retail space. But he said he decided not to get involved. "I didn't like the location," Trump said.

Location is, in fact, a critical part of Trump's glossy image, which he shrewdly markets to investors and consumers. Ocean Trails, a seaside golf course with stunning vistas, has the kind of wow factor he demands. "If it were 200 yards off the ocean," he said, "I wouldn't have bought it."

Trump's flirtation with Los Angeles is not his first.

In the early 1990s, he took a run at creating a spectacular Los Angeles development when a partnership of his tied up the site of the shuttered Ambassador Hotel in Wilshire Center and announced plans to build a 125-story high-rise. He ran into opposition, however, from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Through legal proceedings, the district seized the property to use as a school -- a setback for Trump that he is still smarting over. At Ocean Trails, Trump digressed from talking about golf to blast "these stupid people" at the school district.

This time around, some real estate industry insiders, including Cushman, think Trump may be inclined to look farther west.

Beverly Hills, with its elite international reputation, is already an address that appeals to Trump. When he comes to Los Angeles, he likes to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel or the Four Seasons Beverly Hills. But the city with the famous zip code -- 90210 -- also has a height restriction on new multifamily buildings of a mere three stories. That limits the grandness of any tower aspiring to be called "Trump."

Nearby Century City has some of the finest high-rise office and residential buildings in the region, along with spectacular views of Los Angeles, adjacent golf courses and Fox studios.

However, area brokers say it also has some downsides for any would-be Trump project: It is very nearly built-out, and the neighbors have shown they are willing to fight hard to hold off additional development. They've been known to make even the biggest builders miserable.

Farther west lies Wilshire Boulevard's residential high-rise canyon, the region's largest cluster of expensive condominiums. Some flats sell for millions of dollars. But there's a catch there, too: One of the reasons prices are so high is that few, if any, skyscraper-approved lots are available on the open market. What's more, the area has practically no shops or restaurants.

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