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It's Trump's world - just live in it

By ROBERT TRIGAUX
Published January 12, 2005


Any troubled Tampa Bay company worth its salt should know now is the time to issue bad news. With Trump on the community brain, nobody cares.

Donald Trump's choosing to put his gilded name on a proposed, sky-high-priced luxury condo in downtown Tampa is all the area business community really wants to talk about.

Is it because the Trump name on a 52-story tower selling condos from $700,000 to more than $6-million somehow adds a "We've arrived" luster to a metro area always looking for a pat on the back? Is it because a Trump-dubbed condo on Tampa's S Ashley Drive will accelerate the buzz starting to build in a city struggling to revive its downtown?

Or is it simply natural for The Donald to build just down the road from Mickey?

Perhaps the answer lies in the power of Trump, a formidable brand as synonymous with over-the-top luxury real estate as Neiman Marcus is to glitzy retailing.

Trump, 58, may have questionable taste in hairstyles, but he sure knows how to leverage his brand. That's why Trump is using the current popularity of his NBC TV show The Apprentice to broaden his brand to all sorts of products. Macy's sells $500 Trump suits. His Trump The Fragrance sells retail, 3.4 ounces for $60. He has a string of bestseller books, a Trump board game, a Trump doll and Trump World magazine celebrating upscale indulgences.

Trump's biggest clout, though, is sticking his brand name on luxury residential buildings. He claims that adding Trump to a luxury property can boost its value immediately by as much as 25 percent.

That's a big-time premium that the commercial real estate world seems uneager to contest.

The Trump name also seems to be a magnet for condo buyers. Trump on Tuesday told St. Petersburg Times reporter Jeff Harrington that the proposed Trump Tower Tampa already was 70 percent sold. Trump properties in other cities have achieved similar preconstruction results.

"The value of the Trump name and brand is substantial, no doubt about it," acknowledged Tampa's Sam Ellison. As head of the Beck Group construction company in Florida and chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Ellison knows the benefit a strong brand can bring to any luxury condo market. And he appreciates the extra value Trump's name will bring to downtown Tampa.

Ellison calls the size and prices of Tampa's proposed Trump condo "ambitious," but consistent with trends in larger cities of more people relocating to re-energized downtowns to avoid traffic and suburban sprawl.

The worldwide public infatuation with Trump goes well beyond his success on The Apprentice. And Trump's appeal seems undimmed by his placing his Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in late November.

Trump has remained a mythical figure in New York City real estate for decades. His up-and-down casino experience seems only to have glamorized his easy-come, easy-go formula for success that still has left him at No. 74 on the 2004 Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. His personal fortune is estimated at $2.6-billion.

Trump's name already litters several central Manhattan super-luxury condos. How super? The New York duplex condo on the 89th and 90th floors of Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza can be yours for just $58-million.

If Trump's decision to hang his name on a Tampa condo seems somehow unexpected, think again. In South Florida, Trump's name is already well known. He is currently marketing the Trump Royale and Trump Palace luxury condos with prices from $600,000 to $2.5-million.

Trump also happens to be getting married on Jan. 22 to longtime girlfriend Melania Knauss in Palm Beach. Afterward, the wedding party will gather for a reception at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's jazzy 18-acre, private-home-turned-country-club overlooking the Atlantic.

Now Trump is branching out, attaching his name to fancy residential real estate here and in several other U.S. cities. In Chicago, Trump is about to build a fancy 90-story condo and hotel tower on the former site of the Sun-Times newspaper building. Trump had signed up buyers for nearly 70 percent of its condo and hotel units long before the groundbreaking for the tower.

In Las Vegas, Trump this year is planning a $300-million, 64-story hotel-apartment complex covered in 24-karat-gold glass. With more than 80 percent of the units already taken, Trump has announced a second Vegas tower to meet demand. In Toronto, Trump is selling condo units in a new 68-story tower.

Trump said in a video news release that Tampa caught his eye after visiting longtime Tampa resident and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. But there's another Trump who helped The Donald clue in to Tampa's potential: his younger brother, Robert Trump.

"Robert's had an affinity for the Tampa area for some time," says Shawn Hughes, CEO of Fortress Technologies in Oldsmar, which makes wireless security systems for the military. Robert Trump is the company's second-biggest investor.

Tampa Bay's giddiness over The Donald will wear off eventually. Until then, we might as well call the city Trump Tampa and enjoy the premium brand.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com or 727 893-8405.

[Last modified January 12, 2005, 00:46:05]


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