“Fear factor”: Trump World Tower fights off name change

Trump-friendly board keeps power as unit owners’ insurgency fails

Trump World Tower Rejects Removing “Trump” From Its Name
Condo board president Barry Leistner and Eric Trump with Trump World Tower (LinkedIn, Getty, Google Maps)

A pregnant pause filled the air at Trump World Tower as residents at its condo board election wondered whether disgruntled unit owners would mount a challenge. 

Instead, the Trump-friendly condo board at Trump World Tower kept its grip on power last week, dashing the hopes of unit owners seeking to remove the former president’s name from the East Side building.

The insurgents, who also want to replace the Trump Organization as building manager, say the Trump branding for which they pay licensing fees now hurts their unit values. One unit owner claimed that a would-be renter turned around and drove off after seeing the Trump name emblazoned on the building, 845 United Nations Plaza.

De-Trumping the pricey condo has proven a near-impossible task. Apathy prevails at the 90-story monolith, the disgruntled owners say, because the Trump Organization runs the building well and many owners are foreign governments or live outside the city — keeping units in the former “it” building as investments or pieds-à-terre.

Then there is what one owner called the “fear factor” of going against the litigious Trump Organization.

“Each person’s bottom line is fear of retaliation,” said a different unit owner.

Some of the unhappy owners skipped last week’s meeting to ensure there wouldn’t be enough attendees to re-elect a pro-Trump board.

“I didn’t really want the meeting to reach a quorum,” one said.

Falling property values at the building are evidence, unit owners say, that the board is closer to the Trump Organization than it is to them. To unit owners, licensing the Trump name only makes economic sense if it attracts buyers, not if it repels them.

Sale prices at Trump World Tower have fallen 24 percent since peaking in 2016 at $1,790 per square foot, while resales in Manhattan overall dipped less than 2 percent over the same period, according to data firm Marketproof.

At Tuesday’s meeting, building manager John Henriques blamed the price drops on the neighborhood, Turtle Bay, rather than the Trump name, citing research into comparable buildings. Marketproof data shows the Trump World Tower declines have been twice that of Turtle Bay’s on the whole since Donald Trump captured the White House.

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Boards at other Trump-branded buildings have managed to take down Trump signage by challenging it in court — a step that owners at Trump World Tower have yet to take.

At the meeting Tuesday, one board member described the desire to remove the Trump name as the wish of only “a small minority” of unit owners. Later, board president Barry Leistner declined to answer questions from The Real Deal. “I’m not in a position to comment,” he said.

Changing the legal name of the building from Trump World Tower would require the approval of two-thirds of unit owners — a high bar. But ending a licensing contract and removing the signage is typically an action the board can take on its own.

The board at 845 United Nations Plaza is not going to do that. Its critics pointed to examples of its pro-Trump bias, including an alleged sweetheart deal the board approved for the Trump Organization involving a commercial space inside Trump World Tower. They also claimed the company took a “success fee” of millions of dollars after getting a property tax break at the building.

Trump allies have controlled the board since 2006, when former Trump fixer Michael Cohen helped the company establish the panel and transfer governance powers to it. The current treasurer, Robert Pollack, is an attorney whose firm does tax work for the Trump Organization. He nominated the current slate of board members for re-election Tuesday.

Pollack and the Trump Organization did not return a request for comment.

At one point, Donald Jr. asked Cohen to push independent board members out in favor of Trump cronies, Cohen told Congress in 2019.

“The reason Don came to me is because I had an apartment [at Trump World Tower] for investment,” Cohen testified. “We ultimately turned over the board,” he said, in part by threatening to sue independent board members for millions of dollars, according to one longtime owner at the building.

“At the end of the day, [Donald] Trump appreciated that,” Cohen testified.

The board’s highest profile member, Eric Trump, may have to forfeit his seat if the Trump Organization fails in its appeal of a civil fraud verdict that banned Eric and Donald Jr. from any role as a company officer in New York for two years. Still, their seats would be filled by the Trump Organization.

“I am ready to sell and get out,” one owner said, “except that I would take a bath.”

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