Chump Tower

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

And in South Florida, there are fiveTrump projects.


Next to the posh The Atlantic hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard is a fenced-off construction zone. But the developers would have you believe this is no ordinary site. Along the fence are pictures of beautiful men and women dressed in skimpy bikinis and bathing suits on the sandy beach or in black cocktail dresses and suits in elegant ballrooms. Between each picture is a word — Trump. And the message is clear: If you buy one of these units, you too can live the glamorous life of The Apprenticestar.

On NBC's The Apprentice, Donald Trump plays a know-it-all real estate magnate. Perception is reality.
On NBC's The Apprentice, Donald Trump plays a know-it-all real estate magnate. Perception is reality.
Someday, units at Trump International will be swank and modern, according to this rendering.
Someday, units at Trump International will be swank and modern, according to this rendering.

But — ahem — only for one month out of the year.

Due to a pesky law that has been on Fort Lauderdale's books more than 50 years, no one can live in a single hotel room more than 30 days out of the year — with an obvious exception for innkeepers.

"The condo hotel means that the ownership is by an individual investor or owner," says Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle, who is also a real estate agent. "Someone could buy one or two or ten units, but that doesn't mean it's a condo. The person can't live in it."

Trump International and its sister development, Trump Las Olas Beach Resort, are both condominium hotels. They will act just like other hotels: When the unit is not occupied by the owner, hotel management can lease the room on a nightly basis — and then pay a fee back to the unit owner. But whether buyers of Trump International and Trump Las Olas realize that they'll have access to their unit only 30 days out of the year is unclear. Developers are not required to make that law known to potential buyers. In fact, representatives of Trump International admit that they do not promote the 30-day limit.

The sly way in which condo hotels are being marketed as traditional condos has become a problem in America's Venice. "Some 'hotel' developments approved by the city are being marketed and used in a manner that has historically been considered a condominium use," Fort Lauderdale City Attorney Harry A. Stewart wrote in a February 9, 2005, memo to city commissioners.

City staff in Fort Lauderdale have proposed an ordinance that would require developers to disclose that buyers of condo hotels are limited to 30 days' residency.

"It's my understanding that if the requirement [to notify potential buyers of the 30-day limit] changes, we will be notified," Adzem says. "And we will take appropriate action at that time. Because it is a condo hotel, it is by default a second home. When people purchase a second home, it does not mean they will be living there full time."

That's one problem. Another is that the Trump brand isn't so exclusive in South Florida. With his name plastered on so many developments, Trumphas become a high-end version of Days Inn.

Trump International and Trump Las Olas, the two properties the Donald has a financial interest in, are roughly a mile apart. Twelve miles south is another property, Trump Hollywood, a 200-unit condominium tower on the beach being built by the Related Group under a licensing agreement with Trump.

And just south of Hollywood, across the Broward County line, are two more condominium projects that license Trump's name: Trump Grande and Miami Trump Towers, both in Sunny Isles Beach.

Is the Trump name still special and unique when it's plastered on five new condo developments in South Florida? Adzem brushes off the question.

"That was an initial concern," she says. "But Sunny Isles and Fort Lauderdale have completely different target audiences and target markets. In my Trump International project, half of my buyers are from the Northeast; the other half are from Broward. The rest is a mix — some from the Midwest and a few international buyers. I've learned from my colleagues that are working on the Sunny Isles project that their buyers are primarily Russian and Latin."

But no matter who the target audience is, the market is collapsing, McCabe says. "The jury right now is out on how shimmering the Trump name will be as the market continues to collapse. Let's say there are [a glut] of these luxury units for $2 million and above. Maybe we only have 500 buyers a year in that price range: Will they flock to Trump as the market dips, or will they go to deals offered by Trump's competition?"

If buyers do not flock to Trump's building, it wouldn't be the first time one of his South Florida projects failed. In 1986, Trump paid a developer 50 cents on the dollar to rescue the Trump Plaza of the Palm Beaches — a 221-unit luxury condominium project in downtown West Palm Beach — from foreclosure. Despite offering such incentives to brokers as free trips to his Plaza hotels, Trump was unable to sell 84 units. Owing $18.5 million on the project, Trump signed over the remaining units to the lenders.

Trump Plaza of the Palm Beaches was a failure. But even today, the project bears Trump's name, creating an illusion of success. Such illusions are the cornerstone of Trump's image. Despite widely held beliefs that Trump is a bulletproof billionaire, the real estate magnate was broke only 12 years ago. In 1994, Trump declared business bankruptcy and narrowly avoided personal bankruptcy. His company owed $3.5 million. The Donald himself owed $900 million in personal debt.

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