Chump Tower

South Florida's housing bubble has popped, suckas! But the Donald still wants your millions for his condos.

But the market is going down. And fast.

Which makes it odd that the Donald — widely believed to be a real estate genius despite an embarrassing bankruptcy in his past — is selling condos at this lavish party in Fort Lauderdale.

Does Trump know something we don't?

Location Info


Trump International Hotel & Tower

551 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: Fort Lauderdale

Around 9 o'clock on the night of the party, Donald Trump takes to the stage at the Bonnet House, near a small canal that leads to the Intracoastal Waterway.

The attendees begin to file in toward the stage. The chatter quiets down.

"Trump International Hotel & Tower — this is a celebration," Melania says. "We're celebrating the brokers who have been so good to us for bringing in clients. We're celebrating the success of the building, and we're celebrating now with the new release of the final remaining units. They're going to be beauties too, I understand."

"Yeah, they're really something," says Roy Stillman, the New York developer who is majority investor in the Trump International project in Fort Lauderdale.

Trump introduces Stillman. "This is Roy Stillman, everyone — and somebody who's really done a terrific job," Trump says. Stillman is, after all, the guy with all the money invested in the project, even though most in the crowd believe it's Trump's project.

"So, Roy, we are celebrating tonight with the people that purchased, with the brokers, with everybody who has made the job such a success," Trump says.

The back-patting goes on and on. But Trump and his crew don't mention numbers. They don't mention that Trump International is still mostly just a dirt lot of a city block on Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard. They don't mention that the condo market is tanking. Instead, they congratulate one another. After all, it's the suckers in the audience who are buying these multimillion-dollar units that are under construction.

Trump turns to his son, Don, who is wearing a black suit and expensive brown leather shoes. Don assisted in drafting the plans for the development. "Say a few words," Daddy tells him.

"Thank you all for being here," Don says. "This has been a truly amazing project, this whole thing... It's really been an amazing experience and an education I couldn't get anywhere, not even at the Wharton School of Finance."

The crowd cheers.

"Don has really worked hard," Trump adds.

The crowd roars again.

Stillman finally takes the microphone. "I'd really like to start by thanking you, Donald. It is, first of all, a thrill to work with the very best, to try and do the very best. That's what we came out here to do. I think the best days of Fort Lauderdale are ahead of it, and this property in Fort Lauderdale, the Trump International Hotel & Tower, is the five-star hotel of the city."

Trump smiles and nods, his face alight.

"Woooooo!" yells the crowd, as if cheering for a rock star.

The crowd does have a lot of incentive to cheer. This group, which is filled primarily with real estate agents who specialize in selling the most obscenely expensive properties in South Florida, have diamonds in their eyes. Stillman and Trump have issued a challenge: The first real estate agent to sell three units at Fort Lauderdale's Trump International will receive diamond cuff links (just like the ones worn tonight by the Donald!) designed by M. Zac & Co. That, of course, is in addition to the six-figure commission the agents will receive for each unit they sell. Condos at Trump International start at $1,200 per square foot — that is, about $2.4 million for the building's most basic 2,000-square-foot pad.

Diamond cuff links as an incentive to sell condos? Surely Trump International must be struggling to get signed contracts.

Not so, says Senada Adzem, vice president of marketing for Stillman's New York-based development company, Bayrock Group. Before the lavish Bonnet House party, 209 of Trump International's 298 units had been sold, she says. Another 20 were reserved for friends and family members of the developers. Sure, there's a market correction under foot, Adzem concedes, but not in Fort Lauderdale. The problems are south of the county line, she says.

"When we looked at coming into South Florida, we found that Miami-Dade had about 60,000 new units in development while Fort Lauderdale had only 6,000," Adzem says. "That gives you a very good feel in terms of the Fort Lauderdale market. Yes, the market has softened in South Florida. But from what we have seen in the Fort Lauderdale market in terms of supply and demand, we are not as affected as Miami."

In fact, Adzem's boss is so bullish on Fort Lauderdale that Stillman has partnered with Trump for a second project, Trump Las Olas Beach Resort, a smaller — the developers prefer the term "boutique" — condo hotel south of the Trump International. Trump Las Olas began to accept contracts in mid-June.

McCabe, the real estate analyst, doesn't think Fort Lauderdale's housing market is without risk. He's divested himself of everything but the roof over his head. "We know that there are going to be a lot of projects by second-tier developers and some even by names that we've come to know for quality and experience that are going to cancel, are going to fail," he says. "I'm concerned that Trump's projects are in all the markets that are susceptible to a major price correction — South Florida, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York. To this point, all the Trump projects have been very successful. But just about any project has been a success to this point. The question is going to be, what if one or two of Trump's projects do not do well? How will that affect the other projects?"

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