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Regional anger, lawsuits of failed Trump Tower Tampa may haunt The Donald's presidential bid

Wake up and good morning. The seriousness of The Donald's presidential aspirations remains suspect at best. And his campaign may implode from its own fixations on petty topics. But Donald Trump may have another headache in the Tampa Bay area if he survives the early campaign shakeout. Bad regional memories of the failed Trump Tower Tampa. That's a rendering of what the Trump tower -- 52 stories, the tallest building on Florida's west coast -- would have looked like if it had actually been built and not become a victim of massive hype, inadequate funding and a nasty recession.

Announced by Trump in February 2005 during a whirlwind stopover in Tampa, the skyscraper's 193 units were pitched as the most luxurious in the region. Ever since the project failed, Trump and his business empire has worked mightily to distance themselves from the ongoing accusations of local developer SimDag and the many people who, enamored with the Trump luxury mystique, put hefty deposits down on condos, some of them with $1 million-plus prices, that never materialized. (Photo, left, the fenced site of Trump Tower Tampa at 111 S Ashley Drive. The tower was never built. Stefanie Boyar, St. Petersburg Times.)

One such case, now a lawsuit, is detailed in a New York Times story this week. According to the story, retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel John Robbins, 62, sued Trump after "being dazzled by the amenities" available in the nearly 2,000-square-foot apartment that he and his wife, Rosanna, bought six years ago at the planned Trump Tower Tampa: granite countertops, sweeping views of the Tampa Bay, and room service from a high-end ground-floor restaurant.

"The most important amenity of all, though, was the name on the side of the building. 'With the Trump name,' Robbins said of his $756,000 unit, 'we thought it would be a quality building and address,'" the New York Times reported.

In a critical issue for The Donald, the story goes on to say that marketing materials left little doubt that Trump was a driving force behind the 52-story tower: "We are developing a signature landmark property," Trump declared in a news release unveiling it, which described him as a partner. In a marketing video, Trump called it "my first project on the Gulf of Mexico" and even showed up to mingle with potential buyers at a lavish, catered event. "I love to build buildings," Robbins recalled Trump telling the audience, according to the story.

But the story tells of a confidential agreement, later made public in court filings, that says Trump was neither developer or builder. For $4 million, plus a share of any profits, he had licensed his name. "As for the mingling with buyers? He was required to do it, up to two times, in the agreement, which spelled out that the appearances last 'for no more than six (6) working hours each,'" the New York Times reported.

Here's an interesting tidbit. The story states that, according to the document, the very existence of the license agreement was to be kept confidential. And it remained that way, buyers said, long after they bought their units. "If at any point I had known this, I would have walked away," stated Robbins, who put down a deposit of about $150,000 - half of which, under Florida law, the developer could use for construction costs.

Parts of this sad tale we've heard before. Trump promised a lot but retreated quickly when the lack of funding and unhappy condo depositors emerged. Whether such lawsuits -- and there are others, claiming Trump misrepresented his actual interest in fancy towers with his name on it -- prevail, who knows? Trump is quite accustomed to battling out such issues and more in courts.

But one thing is for sure. If Donald Trump comes to Tampa Bay, hat in hand for presidential fund-raising or even to re-introduce himself as a more serious presidential contender, his competition will have plenty of opportunity and reason to shove Trump Tower Tampa back into the ugly spotlight.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St.Petersburg Times

Posted by Robert Trigaux at 6:49:15 am on May 13, 2011