tampabay.com

Tampa tower loses Trump

By JAMES THORNER
Published May 30, 2007


Trump Tower Tampa has lost its biggest asset: the Trump name itself.

New York tycoon Donald Trump has terminated his contract with SimDag, the Tampa development team behind the proposed $300-million condo tower long touted as west Florida's tallest and most luxurious.

Trump's defection could be fatal to a project launched with fanfare in February 2005 but pelted with construction liens and lawsuits as the housing market soured.

Trump-branded towers are under construction or already built in cities ranging from Chicago and New York to Miami and Las Vegas, but in the end Tampa apparently didn't have the right stuff.

"We could continue without Trump, but I don't know if we'd even want to, " said Eric Fordin of the Related Group, a Miami developer SimDag enlisted this year to try to save the project.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court, Trump sounded like a man whose patience was spent.

Trump accused SimDag of defaulting on eight months of licensing fees worth $1.03-million.

Aside from the monthly installments, the contract entitled Trump to 50 percent of the profits on the sale of 190 condos worth between $700, 000 and $6.2-million.

SimDag also failed to provide "bona fide purchase contracts" for 70 percent of the condos, a requirement the company was obliged to meet by April 27.

Trump's licensing agreement with SimDag left planning, marketing, construction and financing in SimDag's hands. But the lawsuit alleges the Tampa partners didn't fulfill their end of the bargain.

"SimDag failed and refused to comply with those obligations and responsibilities, " Trump's lawsuit said in seeking damages, interest and attorneys fees from the former partner.

Neither SimDag nor its spokesman David Hooks could be reached for comment.

SimDag principal Frank Dagostino dreamed up the 52-story luxury tower in 2004 and brought Trump aboard in October of that year. At the ritzy rollout in February 2005, Trump whirled into town with his then-fiancee and bragged about selling out the project.

Investors scooped up many units, but SimDag failed to hook financing. Banks shied from pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a Tampa Bay area housing market stagnant with thousands of unsold condos.

Tampa officials looked to the tower, one of several new condo high-rises, to help revitalize its central business district. But the proposal never shook criticism that its fancy penthouses and gold-trimmed living may have suited Miami and New York but clashed with Tampa's middlebrow image.

Though the tower is now Trump-less, interest remains in the 1-acre site at 111 S Ashley Drive on the Hillsborough River.

The Related Group has talked about going it alone on a scaled down version of Trump Tower. Last year, Trump himself discussed acquiring the land and assets.

But any second round would likely occur absent SimDag, which owes millions of dollars to Trump, former contractors and depositors. Critics of the project speculate that SimDag will seek protection from creditors through bankruptcy.

"Maybe we come in and bring Trump back, " said Fordin, whose company has built Trump condos in and around Miami. "No one knows the other guys. People know Trump."

James Thorner can be reached at thorner@sptimes.com or 813 226-3313.