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TRUMP TOWER TAMPA // The Donald on business and his hit TV show

Published Feb. 19, 2005|Updated Aug. 2, 2006

Donald Trump, the billionaire who is bringing his own special brand of braggadocio to Tampa's downtown residential development, was in rare form during a brief interview Friday evening after the launch of Trump Tower Tampa.

As his diamond-bedecked new bride watched, he held forth on Tampa's place in his burgeoning real estate portfolio, the bankruptcy of his casino company, the stunning success of his TV show and the reason he loves George Steinbrenner.

You've got high-priced condo projects under way in Chicago, Las Vegas and South Florida. How does the Tampa market compare?

Well, it's funny. In Vegas, we're doing a 64-story building with 1,230 units and it sold out in three days. In Chicago, we sold $600-million worth of units before we started excavation.

This project (in Tampa) has reservations but when you can double up your reservations (with backup orders), that's pretty good. I've never doubled up my reservations before, primarily because I've never thought of it. So the developers did a good job. It's a little tough to compare markets, but in terms of the heat of the sale, it's probably very similar to the other markets.

How much have you and your partners, SimDag/RoBEL LLC, invested in the Tampa project?

I'd rather not say other than I love the project, I have wonderful partners. I'd rather not get into the specifics of the agreement because we have a silencio clause.

You are going through bankruptcy proceedings for Trump Resorts and Casino Resorts Inc. That might affect most people's ability to get financing for other projects. Why doesn't it slow you down?

We'll announce financing for this project within the next six weeks, and I will tell you, we have banks fighting over this project.

The casino company is doing very well as a company, but it's always had a lot of debt. What we're doing now, what I'm looking forward to doing, is creating a great casino company like I created a great real estate company. What I'm doing is wiping out about $400-million in debt and saving over $100-million a year in interest.

Now that's less than 1 percent of my net worth. Personally, in theory, it shouldn't be too important but I like the company. It's been very successful for me as an entrepreneur and now what I want to do is build a great casino company.

I've always done well in real estate. I've always done well in casinos, too. But in casinos, it's a more complex well. The real estate was just pure well.

Do you fear celebrity burnout with The Apprentice?

When I did this show, everybody said, "Give me a break." And you see (Richard) Branson and (Mark) Cuban both tried and and their shows drew flies. They were taken off the air quickly.

When I did The Apprentice, it was a one-time shot. Ninety-five percent of all TV shows fail immediately and of the other 5 percent, 4 percent fail within a short time. But The Apprentice is the biggest show on NBC since Friends. So if you were to tell me that was going to happen _ and by the way, the ratings came in on the last couple weeks and it's the No. 1 show in all television. It's going through the roof.

The answer is, some day that (burnout) will happen. The sad part is, when it does, they'll say, "Trump fails." They won't say, "For four years, he's had the hottest show on television."

Probably the best time to get out is before that happens.

You've mentioned George Steinbrenner as the reason for your familiarity with Tampa. Has he bought a unit in your project?

I don't know, but let me tell you, when we were first doing The Apprentice, I was trying to get people on the show. And I couldn't get anyone. Oscar de la Renta said yes at first, then he said no because he was worried that the show would be a failure.

I called George Steinbrenner the day before the World Series and asked if he would lecture 16 young people on winning and he did it gladly, for a whole hour. Now the other people are saying, "What a mistake we made."

_ KRIS HUNDLEY and JEFF HARRINGTON, Times staff writers

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