Sunday, January 21, 2018
Politics

Those burned in failed Trump Tower Tampa project may still vote for its namesake

TAMPA — Kevin Brodsky lost more than $2 million investing in Trump Tower Tampa, the 52-story riverfront condo that was supposed to redefine luxury and transform the downtown skyline a decade ago.

Jay Magner lost $130,000 in the project, what he called a "life-altering amount of money."

Yet Donald Trump may still get their votes.

That's despite the hard feelings Magner and Brodsky still harbor against Trump, who was paid millions in 2005 for the right to plaster his famous name across Trump Tower Tampa.

It was a much-hyped $300 million project pitched at the height of the Tampa Bay building boom that never got built. The whole thing ended in acrimony, lawsuits and countersuits.

Investors like Brodksy and Magner lost six- and seven-figure sums. Yet they're still leaning toward supporting the billionaire businessman's historic bid for the White House.

"People are looking at who is going to be a leader, who can fix this unnecessary spending and who can put our military back in place, and that's Donald Trump, so they're looking past the negatives," Brodsky, 53, said. "Hate him or love him, he's the toughest one to get the job done right now."

Magner agreed.

"I don't particularly like the man," he said. "He's brash, he doesn't care what people think. But there's hope in me that maybe he's going to attack this debt and the problems we have with immigration and our whole image on the world scene."

• • •

Love Trump or hate him, everyone can agree on this: The GOP frontrunner likes to brag about doing big things.

That was evident in January 2005, when Trump announced that he would "partner'' with development firm SimDag/Robel to build what he proclaimed would be the tallest, most luxurious building on Florida's west coast. Trump had signed a licensing agreement in which SimDag agreed to pay Trump $2 million plus a percentage of condo sales. The document contained a clause requiring that the agreement be kept secret.

Trump came to town for the sales launch and gave the impression that he was actively involved in the project, telling reporters he had a "substantial stake." By then, buyers already had put down deposits on all 190 units, priced from $700,000 to $6 million. In 2006, the licensing agreement was modified to increase Trump's fees to $4 million in exchange for a concession in his cut of condo sales.

Those plans collapsed. The builders discovered that the riverside parcel required a much more expensive foundation than expected. Then the real estate bubble burst.

Trump sued, claiming he was owed more than $1 million in licensing fees. That was the first time most people — including the buyers — realized Trump was part of the tower in name only.

The developers countersued, alleging Trump had damaged the project by breaching the confidentiality agreement. The two sides settled in 2008. SimDag declared bankruptcy the same year.

Under terms of the Trump Tower Tampa sales agreements, the developers had put half of each buyer's deposit into escrow and used the other half to help pay construction costs. Buyers got back the amount in escrow but not the rest — which in some cases amounted to more than $250,000.

In 2009, several dozen buyers sued Trump, alleging they had been misled through "fraudulent and negligent misrepresentations'' into thinking the tower was a Trump project. His lawyers argued that the sales agreements made it clear SimDag was the developer and solely responsible for financing.

Within three years, settlements were reached. Some buyers got as little as $11,115, records show.

• • •

Brodsky, a Tampa businessman who has made a fortune as an auto dealership owner, kicked in $1.6 million as a bridge loan to SimDag with a guaranteed 20 percent return on the investment. When SimDag defaulted, he sued and won a $2.4 million judgment. He said he has collected about $400,000.

He blames SimDag more than Trump, but the episode left him with a less-than-favorable opinion of the real estate mogul.

"I don't know if the project could have been saved, but he got paid his money to use his name and then left everybody else hanging," Brodsky said. "But then again, maybe that's business. I'm not letting it affect the way I think about this race."

Trump opponents are hoping that the details of the failed venture will sway voters: Our Principles PAC told the Tampa Bay Times that the Trump Tower Tampa project will be the focus of political ads targeting Trump.

A registered Republican, Brodsky said he's no fan of Trump's bombastic personality and penchant for demeaning people. But the other candidates don't strike Brodsky as willing or able to shake up the status quo in Washington.

"People say he's a bully, but at this point we kind of need a bully in the office" Brodksy said. "Maybe he'll negotiate, maybe he'll put better deals together."

He acknowledged that perceived toughness could cut both ways.

"What happens if (Russian President Vladimir) Putin or another leader rubs him the wrong way?" Brodsky wondered. "What are you going to do, call him a name? (President Barack) Obama has already made our relations very dysfunctional. We need a president who can put it back together, and my concern with Donald Trump is if it doesn't go his way, how will he react?"

Brodsky said his likely support for Trump puts him at odds with his wife, who "despises" the candidate. Brodsky's business partner, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, endorsed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's failed bid in the GOP primary.

"I think this country is ready for a nonpolitical type of guy," Brodsky said, "an executive who can get in there and surround himself with the right people and listen to them, and I believe Trump will do that."

• • •

For Magner, owning a luxury condo unit in the sky was going to be his slice of the American dream. Instead, the 55-year-old Tampa resident ended up losing $130,000.

"I regret trusting the assurances I received," he said. And it appears Trump "could have done more due diligence" before agreeing to be involved with the project.

The registered independent twice voted for Barack Obama. But now he says he'll probably vote for Trump, though with some regrets. A former dollar store owner who now cleans houses for a living, Magner believes the businessman will rein in the national debt, Magner's top concern. He's willing to take a gamble on Trump's ability to deal with allies and enemies on the world stage.

"I think they'd be afraid of him," he said. "We spend so much time kissing everybody's a-- without having an expectation from our allies. I kind of like the idea that they might think, 'Uh-oh, maybe we ought to do something.' "

Michael Dinkel, a 52-year-old Orlando businessman, planned to purchase a Trump Tower condo for his mother. He claimed a loss of $580,000 and won a settlement amount from Trump that he declined to disclose but that he said satisfied him.

The registered Republican thinks he'd be satisfied with President Trump, too.

"Mainly because things need to change and he's probably got the best ability to make them change," Dinkel said. "He's not tied to anybody."

Times Washington bureau chief Alex Leary and senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

     
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