In some South Florida circles, they are known as “the Other Trumps.” Brothers Jules and Eddie, the sons of a South African tailor known as “Willie,” have no financial, philosophical or even familial ties to Donald Trump. However, the Brothers Trump have quietly built an empire on luxury real estate development, one which includes Williams Island (named after their dad), an 82-acre posh preserve for the rich in Aventura; the 51-story Acqualina Resort & Spa in Sunny Isles; and Luxuria in Boca Raton, seaside condos that include flat-screen televisions in the bathrooms.
“We love building high-end boutique buildings on the water,” said Michael Goldstein, who has worked for the Trumps for 13 years and is president of sales.
“The luxury market is strictly a niche market,” added Goldstein. “We’re strictly dealing with the high-end. Yeah, the market is slowing down and if people tell you different, they’re lying. But people with money always have money, and they always want the finest.”
In New York, Jules and Eddie had golden timing.
In late 2006, they sold a 14-story Cass Gilbert-designed building at 200 West 57th Street, which they owned for 25 years, for $126 million, and managed to deftly dodge the crash. They still own an office tower at 404 Park Avenue.
Over the course of more than 30 years in business, the Other Trumps’ financial holdings have included a men’s clothing chain, a chain of discount stores called Pay n’ Save, bowling alleys, a huge auto supply company and the Manhattan branch of the Elite Modeling agency, which spawned supermodels Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer. The duo have also invested in Giftcertificates
.com, which sells gifts certificates to a wide range of stores, and Beliefnet.com, a multifaith religion and spirituality site.
And the brothers plan to bring “Florida to California” with another project, Aquabella, which is planned to have about 14,000 units on the water in Marino Valley.
Trump vs. Trump
But while both the Other Trumps and The Donald work in the high end, there are very clear differences in the way they operate.
While The Donald has worked marketing magic to transform his family name into a brand as well known as Coca-Cola or Cheetos, the Brothers Trump have generally avoided the limelight.
“We’re very boring. We’re very different from Mr. Trump. He’s much more interesting. Go write about him,” said Jules Trump when recently reached by cell phone on one of his frequent trips to Israel.
Donald Trump could not be reached for comment.
However, those who work with Jules and Eddie had somewhat harsh words for The Donald.
“The difference with Eddie and Jules is that they build their own buildings. They don’t take a label and stick it on somebody else’s product,” said Goldstein, who called Donald Trump “a peddler.” Goldstein added, “Donald Trump isn’t that involved in his projects. He comes down, makes three appearances, gets his commission and goes away.”
The fractiousness between the Brothers Trump and The Donald has extended to at least one legal run-in.
In 1988, Donald Trump sued to stop the brothers from using the name Trump. For more than 10 years, Donald Trump had used his name to promote office towers, hotels and casinos. He contended that the Trump brothers benefited from the publicity he generated.
First, Trump sued in New York State court and lost. Then, he petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revoke the federal registration of the group’s name — and won. The Brothers Trump had to relinquish the trademark but can still use the name “The Trump Group.”
The road to Florida
Jules and Eddie grew up in South Africa, stocking store shelves for the department store their parents, Willie and Celia, owned. Their grandparents had fled czarist Russia in the late 19th century with waves of other Lithuanian Jews.
But the racial upheavals and massacres of the early 1960s drove the family to flee again, this time for the Netherlands. The brothers started flipping small properties in Europe, and then, with their father, moved to New York, and later to Florida.
They knew retail, and their first deal in the 1970s was acquiring and rebuilding a men’s clothing chain known as Bond’s. It was losing $10 million a year, but they turned it around and sold it for an undisclosed profit.
In the glory days of the junk bond kings, they tied their fortunes to infamous former Wall Street firm Drexel Burnham Lambert doing small, below-the-radar deals. As their capital grew, so did their projects.
In 1980, Jules bought 80 acres of Australian Pines off of Biscayne Boulevard, which would become the ultra-luxe Williams Island on Dumbfounding Bay. They earned their reputations as developers there, building a high-rise resort that resident Sophia Loren promoted for them.
In 1984, the brothers bought homes there, where they still live.
Eddie is known as the bachelor brother who focuses on finances. Jules (whose wife, Stephanie, also works in the family business) concentrates on marketing and design.
Goldstein said the brothers don’t cut corners or “value engineer” a building that’s been sold out. He said Jules is still making changes to Acqualina, and it’s been sold out for five years.
Several real estate experts noted that the Trumps have benefited from location and timing.
Charles Brecker, a South Florida real estate attorney, said the brothers “hit a grand slam” when they sold the Williams Island Country Club, 148 acres with some key zoning approvals, for more than $50 million in 2003, before the market soured.
Brecker said a typical golf course in the area, one that does not have elaborate club facilities, in the past sold for about $5 million to $6 million.
“Today, somebody would have trouble selling it for one-third the price,” said Brecker.
Even in South Florida’s dead market, the Trumps seem to be selling units between $4.5 million and $15 million at Luxuria in Boca Raton. They have sold 12 of the 26 “estate residences.”
“They’re doing surprising given this market and everything they have going against them. They’ve closed nine units since mid-January,” said Bob Hamilton, a senior analyst for MetroStudy, a real estate analysis firm.
“They’ve got strong market fundamentals compared to other places like Miami Beach which has a tremendous oversupply,” he added.