Dishing with the Donald

By Alexander Britell | November 03, 2012 07:00AM

Donald Trump

While Donald Trump made his name (and fortune) in and around New York City, he has had a longtime presence in South Florida — from the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, which he has owned since 1985 to the series of condominium towers that bear his name in Sunny Isles Beach and Hollywood. But Trump’s latest South Florida splash was the $170 million purchase of the Doral Golf Resort, on which he plans to spend another $200 million in renovations. Trump recently spoke with The Real Deal about his plans for the resort — he plans to rename it the Trump National Doral — the growing presence of Latin American buyers in Miami and Palm Beach exceptionalism.

What do you think has been the biggest reason for Miami’s real estate rebound since 2010?

Well, I think the South American clientele is really, really loving Miami. They have always loved Miami, but now they’re coming in and they’ve become rich. … That’s why if you look at Colombia, if you look at Venezuela and other countries, many of them have become very rich in a fairly short period of time. Those people love the United States, and they love Miami more than any place in the United States by a factor of 10.

You paid $170 million for the Doral Golf Resort earlier this year. What do you envision for the property?

We’re really looking to make Doral into the finest club anywhere in the United States and beyond, because we have 800 acres right smack in the middle of Miami, right next to the airport. We just had the [WGC] Cadillac Championship, which is a world championship tournament, and we have that and that’s been there for many years. The location is so amazing, and that’s why the [PGA] tour loves Doral. So I’m going to be spending a lot of money on rebuilding Doral and making it something that will be, when we finish it, one of the finest golf resorts anywhere. Easily.

Are you bullish about the Miami hotel market generally?

Yes, I am, because of what’s happening in South America. South America is booming, and the boom is coming to Miami.

Do you expect to build any new condominium towers in South Florida?

Well, it’s possible. But with Doral, I have something that’s unique because I have five golf courses, 800 acres, 700 rooms and the largest ballroom in Florida — one that’s recently been built. What I like best is that I’m the only one that has great golf. And I have the PGA Tour coming every year to Doral because nobody else [here] can compete with it from a golf standpoint. So all of the other hotels that are built, those people, many of whom are golfers, they come to Doral. I have 14 [golf] clubs now, and from that standpoint it really works out.

How would you compare the market in Miami to New York right now?

I think that the New York market is always one of the good markets. But the New York market tends to be more European, Asian, whereas the Miami market tends to be more from South America. But they’re both robust. So I think that they’re independently strong and they’re different.

You mentioned Asian buyers in New York. Do you see Asians making the move to Miami at any point?

I think that’s the next step.

You’ve obviously been in Palm Beach with Mar-a-Lago for some time. Earlier this year you said Palm Beach is never affected by the economy. What did you mean by that?

The only thing I’ve ever seen affect Palm Beach was [Bernard] Madoff, and that’s now gone. About $7 billion was taken out of Palm Beach by this maniac, and that was the only thing I’ve gone through. We’ve seen serious recessions and Palm Beach has never been affected. In fact, the last time, in the ’90s, it was the only place in the United States where housing prices didn’t go down. … And the world goes to Palm Beach — while I say South Americans go to Miami, you have South Americans there also, but also [people from] Asia, big Europe, Canada, etc.

We’ve seen more than 70 new condo towers proposed for South Florida. Do you have any reservations about this next wave of building?

I’m happy about it because the more buildings they build, the better Doral is going to do. Plus, an interesting figure is the golf shop at Doral is the No. 1 grossing golf shop in the U.S. — which I think is a great tribute.