Downtown Express photo by J.B. Nicholas
Cap; Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka at the opening of Trump Soho last week.
Talking with the Donald at his Soho opening
By Lincoln Anderson
Saying the Trump Soho New York condo-hotel has created 350 permanent jobs and will boost business for Downtown stores and restaurants, Donald Trump led a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday, officially opening the towering new building.
He was joined by his development partners in the project and his children, who have a role in the hotel’s operation.
Each wielding a pair of giant scissors, Trump, his daughter, Ivanka, and sons, Don Jr. and Eric, along with partners Julius Schwarz of Bayrock and Alex Sapir, plus Robert Lieber, deputy mayor for economic development, together clipped the long, gray ribbon, sending it flying into the air in bits.
Sitting off to the side, several dozen of the hotel’s employees, crisply dressed in their various uniforms — doormen, room cleaners, chefs — burst into applause and cheers.
“Let’s get to work!” Trump declared.
The ribbon cut, as Trump was striding out of the room, I cornered him — well, actually, Trump looked like he was eager to talk to the media. No one else from the press had questioned him during the brief ceremony, though Trump reportedly gave some interviews beforehand.
A bit wary that the wealthy “Apprentice” host might possibly have read and objected to some of the paper’s coverage of the project — reporting on the fierce opposition to it, and the discovery of ancient bones on the construction site — this reporter, at first, just said he was with “a community newspaper.”
What paper? Trump inquired.
Told it was The Villager, Downtown Express’s sister publication, the developer remarked, “That’s a good paper.”
First question: Exactly how will the restrictive declaration covering condo owners’ use of their units be enforced? (Stays at the hotel are limited to no more than 29 days in a row within a 36-day period, and 120 days total per year.)
No problem, Trump said, confidently: It will all be done by “computer,” and is a great system.
What about the fact that the building, at 46 stories, is so tall it can be seen jutting up on the horizon all the way from the Lower East Side?
“That’s a good thing,” Trump stated bluntly.
Chiming in, Ivanka said it means people inside the building will have excellent views when looking out.
What of all the community opposition from Soho residents, who even filed a lawsuit against the project?
“They’re all our friends now,” Trump assured. “Everybody likes our building.”
Suddenly, a pack of photographers — many of them, doubtless, paparazzi — moved in and, sensing a money shot of the whole Trump clan standing together, started barking at me to back up.
“Your notebook’s going to be in the photo!” one of them yelled. “Get your notebook out of the frame!”
The camera-friendly Trump and Ivanka turned to the photographers like moths to a flame.
“Who is this [freaking] guy?” Trump joked, waving off the reporter with mock annoyance as the assembled camera flashes exploded in a blinding blaze of white.
The photographers satiated, I then asked the millionaire mogul about the recently report by the Wall Street Journal that only a third of the building’s 391 units are in contract to be sold, and that it isn’t clear how many of them will actually close.
That question he didn’t want to answer.
“O.K., I’ll see you later,” he said, then turned on his heel and walked out.
‘Hotel will set records’
I bumped into Trump again in the lobby, and again asked about the reportedly slow sales, and this time Trump answered the question, sort of.
“I think the building will do well,” he said, adding, “We’re really involved in the management. We’re the managers — they’re the sellers,” he said, referring to Bayrock and Sapir.
“I think the Trump Soho is going to do records in terms of volume and food,” the famously coiffed developer continued.
As for the building’s gargantuan size, he stated, “We had a zoning that allowed us to build this tall, and we took advantage of that. I think it’s going to be a landmark in New York.”
He walked out toward his waiting black car in front, but first paused for another photo with some small children who were checking into the hotel with their parents.
“See!” Trump called out back over his shoulder. “This is business!”
After the photo-op with the kids, he ducked into his car and drove off.
Holding her pink camera, the little girl excitedly said she had gotten a great shot of Trump, after which they had been swarmed by photographers and, again, the explosion of camera flashes.
“There were like a thousand [photographers],” she marveled.
Outside on the sidewalk, passersby and tourists stood around waiting to get a glimpse of Trump and Ivanka.
Asked what people in Ecuador think of Trump, Catalina Lara, 39, said, “They admire him in a way that’s powerful and rich. But we have more of the idea he’s a ladies man. We admired him more when he was with his first wife — how you say? Ivana. People always relate money with ‘ladies man.’ But, yeah, he’s famous — and he’s a good-looking man.”
Two hotel guests — Sanjay and Anu Mehant from Toronto, both physicians, casually dressed — were stepping out for a bite to eat. The hotel room came with their Expedia flight package.
“It wasn’t that expensive,” Sanjay said. “It was a good deal.”
They had wanted to stay in Soho, and the Trump Soho was cheaper than other local hotels, like The Mercer, which was charging $460 a night, Sanjay said.
The Trump Soho is offering an introductory rate of $389.
Another guest, a man from England, in finance, with hair cut stylishly short and wearing a hipster-style small leather jacket, said, “First impression: It wasn’t as tacky as I thought it was going to be. Nice decor in the lobby and the staff is friendly.”
With him was a slender blonde who looked like she could have been a model. Asked if she was also in finance, the man said yes, and they both smiled.
Speaking of models, Ivanka, who had been doing some interviews inside, then exited and, with the poised strut of a model, in her powder-blue dress and high heels, glided to her waiting black car.
Traffic study, anyone?
Meanwhile, the hotel’s doormen were busy flagging down cabs at the corner of Varick and Spring Sts., signaling and whistling for them to turn in front of the hotel.
There actually is not much room between the corner and the hotel’s entrance, so the doormen have to keep things moving, especially with the fast traffic on Varick St. At one point, a yellow cab was picking up in front of the hotel, and a black S.U.V. queuing up behind it was blocking the crosswalk.
On Monday, David Chase, the hotel’s general manager, and Lauren Cason, the hotel’s director of public relations, gave a tour of the place. Chase was the manager of the Battery Park Ritz-Carlton hotel from 2002 until taking the Trump Soho job.
In the fairly large lobby, designed by Rockwell, lights hang down from long iron beams, which Chase said evokes “elements of Soho,” referring to the district’s cast-iron architecture.
Keeping in vogue with the current fad for subway-tile decor in restaurants, the hotel’s Quattro restaurant features green subway tiles on its columns.
The swank Kastel lounge — an “ultra lounge,” Chase called it — will have access through the lobby from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.; after 10 p.m., its doors will open on Varick St., where entry will be exclusive, at the door person’s discretion. Cocktails will average $18.
On the second floor, there is a library with an assortment of large art books and photography books by Taschen for guests to peruse.
On the third floor there is 12,000 square feet of space for conferences or weddings. No other Soho hotel boasts such a large ballroom space, Chase noted. It can accommodate weddings with up to 240 people.
There is also an 11,000-square-foot spa.
A small pool features a large pool deck of 6,000 square feet. There will also be a small bar, Bar’deau, on the seventh floor.
Feeling above it all
Chase and Cason showed a room on the 26th floor, and Ivanka was right: There were unobstructed, sweeping views of Pier 40, at West Houston St., New Jersey and the Empire State Building. No other buildings came anywhere near blocking the sight lines. The suite they showed looked like a fairly standard luxury hotel room: There were no kitchen facilities indicating residential use.
A yet-to-be-opened event space on the rooftop, SoHi, will only be for events, and won’t be in use every night, Chase said.
Chase said the doormen have been giving reports that guests have been returning from shopping excursions laden with bags from upscale local stores like Prada and Louis Vuitton.
“Needless to say, we’re providing commerce to all the retailers in Soho,” he noted.
The kids that Trump posed for a photo with on Friday went with their parents to eat at historic Lombardi’s pizza restaurant on Prince St. on Saturday night, and loved it, he said.
Asked about the hotel’s occupancy rate, Chase said it was “way above expectations,” but didn’t give details.
As for ensuring people don’t violate the restrictive declaration limiting length of their stays — intended to block the hotel from being used for residential occupancy — Chase said the hotel uses “a proprietary system” that prevents people from exceeding the benchmarks. He said the computer won’t allow them to check in for longer than the allotted amounts to time.
David Reck, chairperson of Community Board 2’s Zoning Committee, said the Trump Soho’s height was achieved by a crafty strategy: The developers purchased air rights from the building on the corner of Sixth Ave. and Dominick St., and also installed a public plaza to get a plaza bonus; then, by merging the two properties into one lot, they got a plaza bonus for not one, but two buildings, then stacked it all on top of the Trump Soho. The project was built legally, in terms of its height, he said.
“I personally feel that because they are as of right, it behooves us to find a way to get along with them,” Reck said.
The Soho Alliance community organization still has an appeal pending at the Board of Standards and Appeals, charging that the hotel was overbuilt by 5,000 square feet. A previous appeal charged that the hotel violated zoning and was “a Trojan horse” — an illegal effort to create a luxury residential building in a manufacturing zone. But that case failed at the State Supreme Court level, and the alliance decided not to pursue it.
In a telephone interview Monday night, Sean Sweeney, the Soho Alliance’s director, said he was looking at the Trump Soho at that very moment — but that only about one-third of its rooms’ lights were on.
“Do you know what it’s like getting up in the morning and having to look at Donald Trump’s erection?” he said. “I’d much rather cut it down to size.”