The issue came up again in February, when 1,000 protesters rallied outside Trump Plaza.
“Keep your tiny hands off our rights,” one sign said. “Free the six-foot portrait,” said another. A counter-protesting bicyclist rode past them on South Flagler Drive, hoisting a “Trump — Make America Great Again” banner.
Inside the twin waterfront towers at 525 S. Flagler Drive in downtown West Palm Beach, another insurrection stirred but fizzled.
“Maybe four or five people raised the question, should we consider dropping the name from the building,” Trump Plaza Condominium Association President Abe Bernstein said.
“They were concerned only in the context of safety. They said, if people are going to protest because of the name Trump Plaza, maybe we should take it down,” he recalled. “The overwhelming majority said, ‘No way.’”
Similarly, a petition drive to remove the 5-foot-tall letters from the facade failed in 2015.
After all, Trump has had nothing to do with Trump Plaza since about 1991, five years after he bought the distressed project from Bank of New York, which had reclaimed it from its developers.
But soon after Trump put his name on the project, sales stalled amid an economic downturn and he was forced to auction dozens of unsold units to get out of the project and out of his personal guarantee to his lenders. Then he sued the auctioneer, but that’s another story.
It was not a win for Trump but many current owners of its 186 condos say his name is a winner for them, despite his 36 percent favorable rating in national polls.
“Many of the residents here are international people and they consider the Trump name an asset,” Bernstein said this week. “Period.”
“They said, you look at every building in America that has the Trump name on it — it’s a gem.”
By his estimate, listing prices are at least 40 percent higher than three or four years ago.
According to Douglas Rill, president of Century 21 America’s Choice, the 10 units currently on the market are priced from $899,000 to $3,995,000. It’s the off season, so it’s possible other, higher-priced units are being held off the market until fall, he said.
Rill said Thursday the complex has benefited from a shrinking inventory of condos and rising prices throughout West Palm Beach as the recession recedes.
The towers have pluses and minuses, said Rill, a veteran home-seller who remembers speaking with Trump about the project, back in the day.
The kitchens are small and the ceilings are 9 feet, not the 14 feet that newer luxury buildings have.
“So it does have some what you’d call functional obsolescence associated with a mid-‘80’s building,” Rill said. “He attempted to make up for that by having top-notch services, a concierge, very, very New York-style amenities. That helped things out.”
Rill recalled the marketing challenges Trump faced. While the towers have spectacular waterfront views to the Intracoastal Waterway, Palm Beach and the Atlantic, their western fronts faced slums in the pre-CityPlace days. A good marketing partner, Chrysler Corp. savior Lee Iacocca, came in and helped Trump sell condos, but the western ones were a tough sell, Rill said.
A lot of the original marketing material didn’t mention West Palm Beach but highlighted how Trump Plaza was “steps from Worth Avenue” and the ocean.
“It had a new town that doesn’t even exist, called ‘The Palm Beaches.’ It said, ‘525 S. Flagler Drive, The Palm Beaches,’” Rill said.
Trump did not like it when Rill brought that up on a real estate TV show Rill hosted on Channel 12, called “The House Detective.” Rill asked how many steps it was to Worth Avenue. “He had a bad reaction to me,” Rill said.
What would Rill advise about keeping the name of the controversy-stirring president on the towers? The Realtor didn’t hesitate. “I’d leave it on.”
President Trump has put Palm Beach on the map again, Rill said. Everywhere in the world you go, people know about Palm Beach now, he said.
Rill just got back from a state convention for Century 21, where there were people from Asia and other countries. “They used to ask where Palm Beach is. They don’t ask anymore. Everybody knows where Mar-a-Lago is.
“Recognition, exposure. Those are two big aspects of marketing. People know where you are, what you do. That’s what it’s all about.”
Association president Bernstein, asked whether the condo towers lean left or right politically, said he had no idea.
“I don’t go anywhere near that,” he said. “My concern is, are the elevators safe and are we testing the emergency generators in the event of a hurricane.”
The February protesters’ interest also faded, when told Trump no longer had anything to do with Trump Plaza. They marched off toward Mar-a-Lago.
Why is the ‘Trump’ on Trump Plaza?
- April 1981: Palm Beach developers James and Robert Armour and Michael Guider break ground on the pair of luxury 32-story towers at 525 S. Flagler Drive and name it The Plaza.
- December 1983: The project stops when developers sue their real estate brokerage firm. Architects and the general contractor walk off the job. The Bank of New York cuts off money.
- December 1985: Bank of New York files an $83.7 million foreclosure suit against Armour Development Associates.
- July 1986: Bank of New York sells The Plaza to its own subsidiary, ConSol Inc.
- October 1986: Donald Trump pays $40.7 million in cash for The Plaza.
- November 1986: Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca reserves one penthouse. Tenants include Miss America 1979, D. Kylene Barker Brandon.
- July 1987: Henry Rolfs, a principal in West Palm’s Downtown/Uptown redevelopment project, buys two contiguous condos for $835,000. (Rolfs takes $135,000 loss when he resells them in December 1990 for $700,000.)
- October 1987: Trump raises condo prices 10 percent to 20 percent from their base prices of $272,000 to $450,000.
- March 1988: Trump raises prices another 20 percent. County records show Trump had sold 57 of the 221 units at an average price of $370,000.
- August 1990: After selling no condos in 1990, property records show Trump is expected to auction unsold units to satisfy an agreement with Marine Midland Bank. He borrowed $60 million to buy and complete Trump Plaza.
- December 1990: 35 condos go on sale at The Breakers, bringing bids of $8.8 million. “It’s been tremendous, very successful,” Trump says. “I have never seen anything like this.”
- April 1991: Trump sues auctioneer company Lange Financial Corp., alleging they hired incompetent, inexperienced and unprofessional personnel.”
- April 1991: Trump agrees to turn over troubled condo complex to banks that hold its mortgages. “It’s great for me because I get off a guaranty,” he says. “Only because of the success of the development could I have done that. I’m very happy and I think they’re happy.”
Have a West Palm Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at email@example.com or 561-820-4703.