Donald Trump’s Secret ‘Public’ Gardens Gave Him Extra Height at Trump Tower
In light of his media-circus presidential campaign, there seems to be endless exposes about Donald Trump’s past real estate drama. From his failed attempt to own the Empire State Building to a lost battle with China over two bi-coastal skyscrapers, the Donald’s development empire has very often skirted the rules. The latest saga dates back to 1979, when, as Crain’s uncovers, Trump struck a deal with the city for a zoning variance to build an extra 200,000 square feet, or 20 stories, at Trump Tower. In return, he agreed to create a public atrium, as well as 15,000 square feet of public gardens. But these gardens, which yielded almost all of the 244,000 square feet of office and residential space that Trump still owns in the tower (worth roughly $530 million), are hidden, hard to access, and not maintained.
A garden at Trump Tower, photo by Eye on Miami
The gardens and atrium at Trump Tower are POPS (privately owned public spaces), of which there are more than 500 across 320 buildings in the city. Some of the better known examples are Midtown’s Sixth-and-a-Half Avenue, Zuccotti Park, and those along Water Street downtown. They’re also found at least five buildings that, although he doesn’t own them outright, bear the Trump name — Trump Soho, Trump International Hotel and Tower, Trump World Tower, Trump Palace, and Trump Plaza.
If you’re wondering where the gardens at Trump Tower are, you’re probably not alone. As Crain’s explains, the Tower “barely acknowledges they exist. The building’s public entrance on Fifth Avenue doesn’t mention them, though it features signs inviting people to the Trump Bar, Trump Grill, Trump Café, Trump Ice Cream Parlor and Trump Store.” There are signs for the gardens above the lobby elevators, but getting this far past security guards is usually a challenge. Reporter Aaron Elstein tried six times over two weeks to enter the gardens, where he was routinely told they were closed for the day or because of rain. However, the agreement with the city dictates that the gardens be publicly accessible during the times the building’s retailers are open for business.
Once he finally was granted access, Elstein found a drab fourth-floor garden “blocked by a velvet rope and locked double doors” and a larger fifth-floor garden that, although full of 21 table-chair sets and bench seating for 64, felt “underwhelming” and had several dead tress and a non-working fountain. Technically, the Department of Buildings is responsible for ensuring building owners maintain their public spaces, but this is usually quite lenient.
Image via Wikimedia Commmons
The agreement also says the atrium, which draws one million visitors a year, must be open to the public from 8am to 10pm daily and can only be closed four times a year pending prior authorization. During his campaign, Trump has closed the atrium for press conferences so many times that the Department of Buildings opened in investigation last month as to whether he’s in violation of the agreement. And on Thursday, the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings will make a determination on another related issue. At the beginning of the year, Trump Tower received a $4,000 fine for removing a 22-foot-long bench in the atrium and replacing it with a kiosk selling “Make America Great Again” merchandise. Though a $10,000 fine could be imposed for failing to put it back, the bench is still missing.
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Lead Trump Tower photo via Flickr