‘Trump Place’ Asks if It Can Be Called by Any Other Name
Posted January 10, 2018 7:54 p.m. EST
NEW YORK — Must a New York City condominium forever bear the name T-R-U-M-P in large, brasslike letters? Or can it choose to take them down in favor, perhaps, of what a majority of residents believe is a more dignified name, 200 Riverside Blvd., its simple street address?
That is the question before a state Supreme Court judge in Manhattan as part of a heated legal battle between the condominium’s board and DJT Holdings, a corporate entity owned by President Donald Trump.
There was a time in New York City and beyond when developers and businesses proudly emblazoned the Trump name on their residential buildings, hotels, steaks and water. But since Trump was elected president, a small countertrend has emerged.
T-R-U-M-P letters have been peeled off three rental buildings also on Riverside Boulevard, as well as hotels in SoHo and Toronto. The Trump name was also excised from the now-defunct Taj Mahal casino on the Atlantic City boardwalk, but that happened at Trump’s insistence.
The embattled condominium is part of a development that stretches from 59th to 72nd Street along the West Side, known variously as Riverside South and Trump Place. Trump bought the property, a former rail yard, in the 1980s, but with his business in distress, he ended up selling it to a group of Hong Kong billionaires who, with his help, developed it.
The Trump name was cemented in place by a four-page licensing agreement, signed in 2000. It described Trump as a “worldwide renowned builder and developer of real estate who enjoys the highest reputation in these fields among others,” but set only a modest value on the use of his name: $1. Not payable monthly or even annually, but $1 in total.
The name was not an issue until the presidential campaign in 2016 and Trump’s subsequent election, when some residents began to object.
“I felt that he was way far right of my politics,” said Harvey Koeppel, who described himself as the first resident of the building. “I also felt he was dishonest. The way in which he conducted the campaign was, well, sixth-grade level would give him too much credit. I found him embarrassing.”
At three nearby rental buildings — 140, 160 and 180 Riverside Blvd. — the sentiment among tenants was so anti-Trump that the T-R-U-M-Ps on their buildings were removed before the president even took office.
A resident of 220 Riverside Blvd., another condominium nearby, initiated a petition to remove the name from her building that garnered support from at least 57 homeowners and 24 renters in the building, although little came of it.
At 200 Riverside Blvd., the board’s residential committee conducted an anonymous survey of residents last February about whether to keep or remove the Trump name. The letter announcing the effort assured residents, in capital letters, that “THIS IS A BLIND SURVEY AND CANNOT BE TRACKED TO AN APARTMENT,” lest they be fearful of answering honestly.
“A majority was in favor” of removing the Trump letters, Koeppel, an independent management and technology consultant, recalled. He said a minority of residents had no issue with the letters, while others supported the president. Harvey and his wife, Peggy Koeppel, sold their 12th-floor apartment in July, after retiring and moving to the Hudson Valley, but not before they were forced to drop the price by 10 percent to secure a buyer.
Just before a meeting of unit owners to discuss the survey results, on March 29, Alan Garten, the chief legal officer of the Trump Organization, sent a letter to the board saying that removal of the letters would constitute a “flagrant and material breach of the license agreement.”
Garten also said that many apartment owners had reached out to express “their grave concerns with the Board’s contemplated action.”
That cast a pall over the meeting, Koeppel said. “There was definitively a fear in the air.”
With a new board on its way in, a decision was delayed. Then, last week, the residential committee of the board asked the court to issue a declaratory judgment that the condominium has the right to use or remove the letters without violating its licensing agreement with Trump.
Under the licensing agreement, the committee acknowledges the board’s obligation “to maintain the building in a manner consistent with ‘super luxury’ condominiums in Manhattan.”
But, the committee said in its suit, the agreement “does not obligate the board to use or display identifications,” but rather “grants the board the right to use the identifications should the board choose to do so.”
The lawsuit was first reported by The New York Post.
Harry Lipman, a lawyer for the condominium, said that the committee “took no position on whether the signage should or should not be removed.”
“If we obtain the ruling,” he said in a statement, “the committee will give the unit owners the opportunity to express themselves through a fair and democratic vote on the issue without any threat of legal action by the licensor.”
That election is not a foregone conclusion, of course, but in the presidential election, Trump received just 64,929 votes in Manhattan, versus 579,013 for his opponent, Hillary Clinton.