Real estate mogul Donald Trump swept into Tampa like a crown prince Friday, emerging from a black limousine wearing a black suit and royal purple tie with his new wife, Slovenian model Melania Knauss, at his side.
The New York billionaire came for what was supposed to be the sales launch of his namesake Trump Tower Tampa, a 52-story condominium complex in downtown Tampa in which he is partnered with local developers.
A harpist played as spirits flowed in a private reception for 50 VIPs. Among the invitees: Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, cigar makers Carlos Fuente and Carlos Fuente Jr. and Kelly Perdew, recent winner of Trump's hit TV show, The Apprentice. In a tent outside, more than 600 invitees mingled, many of them wealthy residents who had plunked down $100,000 or more to reserve a unit.
But even Trump joked there was little need for such a lavish affair to drum up sales.
More than 98 percent of the high-priced units have been reserved, the developers revealed Friday. There's a nearly equal number of backup reservations for the 190 units. And the developers pulled a construction permit Friday for the $220-million project.
"We can't do much better than we're doing here," said Trump, who has a half-dozen residential projects under way in markets including as Chicago and Las Vegas. "I wish I could say it's 100 percent (reserved) but I'm getting modest in my old age."
Unlike a 92-story condo/hotel project in Chicago where Trump is sole owner, he placed his ownership in the Tampa project at less than 50 percent.
"But it's a substantial stake," he added. "I recently said I'd like to increase my stake but when they're selling that well they don't let you do that."
Trump said only three or four buyers in the Tampa project are from New York; more than 80 percent are local. Most of them, he predicted, will keep the units rather than sell after the project's completion for a quick profit.
"They're keepers," he said. "They want it as a home."
Among notables snapping up a condo or penthouse in Trump's high-rise: Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and several New York Yankees players, whom Trump and others declined to identify.
Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., is taking a unit. And Trump and his new wife are likely to buy one of the units, said Trump, who was jetting on to Palm Beach for the weekend.
"We come down (to Tampa) to watch the (New York) Yankees," he said. "It'd be kind of a cool thing to do."
Indeed, during a news conference, Trump emphasized his longtime friendship with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as a key reason he embraced the project, which promises to be the tallest building on Florida's west coast.
Before Trump's arrival at 5:45 p.m., there were signs Tampa was gearing up for a high-profile visitor. A section of Ashley Drive at Whiting Street was cordoned off during rush-hour traffic as 16 valet parkers stood sentry. Police on horseback and foot were joined by private security forces.
Simultaneous with Trump's visit, project backers unveiled a sales center for the project in an office building abutting the site at 111 S Ashley Drive.
The center included samples of the dark wood cabinets, granite countertops and marble baths available for buyers of the units, priced up to $6-million. A 61-inch flat-screen TV ran a four-minute video loop, extolling luxury touches in other Trump projects. Browsers were given demonstrations of a wireless, touch-pad system that will give residents remote access to the Internet, a concierge, valet service and the restaurant downstairs.
"This redefines high-end condominium living for Tampa," Iorio said as she gazed at a 3-foot architectural model of the project.
The model cost nearly $80,000 and the developers said the snazzy project launch party had exceeded budget. Patrick Sheppard, one of the partners with the local development team, SimDag/RoBEL LLC, said, "We have indeed spent in the millions. But you'll be amazed how fast we go from here."
The developers expect to start signing sales contracts within four weeks. The contracts call for a 20 percent nonrefundable deposit compared to a 10 percent refundable deposit for reservations.
Typically, 25 to 60 percent of reservation holders drop out when a development goes to hard contract, Trump said, adding: "I'd be surprised if we lost any percent of reservations here. They really want the apartments."
Financing is expected to be announced within six weeks. Construction could begin any time, the partners said, taking three years to complete.
Jody Simon, a local partner with SimDag/RoBEL, called Trump Tower Tampa the first step in a radical downtown makeover that includes a long-envisioned riverwalk and $54-million museum. During the party, Trump and his fellow developers pledged a combined $100,000 for the Tampa Museum of Art, which has been scrambling for financing and a business plan.