Trump Tower opens in Vancouver

  • Business
  • Thursday, 02 Mar 2017

Of the property’s 217 luxury residences, 214 units have been sold

VANCOUVER: The first hotel to bear the name of US president Donald Trump since he took office has a view of Vancouver harbour and snow-capped peaks beyond. That’s where its postcard-perfect image ends.

Vancouver’s mayor, during the contentious run-up to the Republican primaries to the south, said the tycoon’s brand doesn’t belong in a city that prides itself on openness.

The tower’s wealthy Malaysian developer has faced demands to re-brand the project. Protesters, who had planned two separate demonstrations, gathered on Tuesday outside the main entrance, where police stood by a steel barricade for the building’s debut.

Trump’s sons Donald Jr and Eric – along with Tiah Joo Kim, scion of one of Malaysia’s richest tycoons and head of Vancouver-based developer Holborn Group – were present for Tuesday’s grand opening of the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver, located on a downtown thoroughfare where a giant silver “TRUMP” logo faces a modest brick church.

Datuk Tony Tiah Thee Kian, Joo Kim’s father and chairman of TA Enterprise Bhd, sat with his wife in the front row.

“We wanted to be able to change a skyline,” Donald Trump Jr said at the opening ceremony. Calling Vancouver “one of the great cities of the world,” his younger brother Eric said that it’s “so fitting for the Trump brand.” Their father announced the C$360mil (US$275mil) condominium and hotel project in 2013.

Yet from the outset, locals have questioned whether the Trump tower’s Manhattan mentality and over-the-top opulence are suited to a city known for an outdoorsy, laid-back lifestyle, where residents wear ski jackets to upscale restaurants.

“They aren’t embracing who we are and what we are,” city councilor Kerry Jang said in an interview. “This kind of conspicuous consumption, lifestyles of the rich and famous – it’s not us.”

More than 200 demonstrators showed up at the ceremony, according to a police estimate. They included indigenous people beating on leather drums, and people who left sticky notes on the granite facade saying, “Not welcome in Vancouver” and “Love Trumps Hate.” Some of the messages were supportive, including “Good Job!” scrawled in chalk on the sidewalk.

Perks for residents

Of the property’s 217 luxury residences, 214 units were sold by last May at an average price of C$1,615 a square foot – a Canadian record at the time for condos, according to Holborn Group. Three penthouses are still to be marketed, one as large as 4,400 sq ft.

Among the perks available to the tower’s well-to-do residents is an “attache,” whose duties include having pets walked and fed, and can set up flights on a private jet. Tots can be pampered alongside their well-coiffed parents at a 6,000-sq-ft spa that offers special treatments and rates for children.

The hotel is promoting that its Drai’s pool bar and lounge, set to open shortly, will “reinvigorate the nightlife scene in Vancouver.” It’ll have to do that before 2am, the closing time imposed when it applied for a liquor licence.

Controversy around the tower mounted after Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015, vowing to ban Muslims from entering the US and to build a wall to keep out Mexicans.

“Trump’s name and brand have no more place on Vancouver’s skyline than his ignorant ideas have in the modern world,” Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson wrote in December 2015 to Tiah, backing a petition signed by more than 50,000 people demanding that the Trump name be removed from the tower.

His letter called Trump’s positions “hateful” and at odds with the tolerance that’s helped Vancouver consistently rank among the world’s most livable cities. About 40% of Vancouverites were born outside of Canada, with China being the biggest country of origin. The mayor, who declined to comment further, won’t be attending the tower’s opening, according to his office.

The gleaming tower – twisting 45 degrees into the sky, meaning no two views in the building are alike -- was originally scheduled to open last summer.

But the design made it complex to build. Holborn filed a lawsuit last month against a contractor for losses and damages over the delays. Among Holborn’s complaints were that the contractor failed to provide proper security for the project.

That was evident in April 2016, when a Mexican-Canadian construction worker, who wasn’t employed by the project, managed to climb the tower to hang a Mexican flag at the top.

Trump, the first billionaire US president, didn’t divest his holdings upon taking office, bucking a norm established over four decades by US leaders and their deputies. His decision poses unprecedented conflicts of interest given Trump’s estimated US$3.6bil in assets and more than US$600mil of debt tying him to businesses and governments in about 20 countries.

The president has said the company won’t do any new international deals while he’s in office, leaving the opportunity to complete the Vancouver tower as well as a golf course in Dubai. Still, potential conflicts remain.

New hotel

A new hotel planned for Dallas is backed by investors from Turkey, Qatar and Kazakhstan, and the state-owned Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd is a tenant of Trump Tower in New York.

Under the 2013 agreement, Holborn owns the Vancouver development and licenses the Trump name, and Trump’s company manages the hotel.

The US leader earned US$35,714 in fees from the Vancouver project, according to his 2016 financial disclosure form. An investigation of public records by Postmedia News in January found that owners of Vancouver condos include a US tech billionaire, a former Andorran diplomat, a wealthy Iranian family and an investment firm sharing the address of a Hong Kong businessman whose company is backed by the Chinese government.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka – whose husband, Jared Kushner, is an adviser to the president – has closely steered the project.

Speaking at an invitation-only launch event in Vancouver in October 2015, Tiah compared his pitch process to an episode of “The Apprentice” – except Ivanka was the arbiter.

“You know, Joo Kim, it’s really important in your presentation that you connect with Ivanka,” Tiah said he was told by a Trump Organisation executive.

“So that’s when I learned a little bit about the dynamics of the Trump family.” – Bloomberg

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