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Trump Jr. builds on roots
Donald Trump Jr., vice president of development and acquisition for New York-based Trump Corp., visits Chicago nearly every Tuesday to check progress on the 92-story skyscraper the firm is building on the former site of the Chicago Sun-Times building. The 27-year-old executive shared some of his thoughts about the project and Chicago in an interview with Tribune reporter Susan Diesenhouse.
Q. What's your impression of Chicago?
A. It's a financial capital like New York, our bread and butter. Chicago is similar to New York minus some of the pretension. People mix better. It's a breath of fresh air. New York can be a little cliquey. Chicago is a great architectural city; the best in the country. Our building is designed by an architectural legend [Adrian Smith, a partner at Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP]; that makes it easier for us.
Q. What have been the most challenging aspects of this project so far?
A. Financing a building of this cost and size was incredibly difficult. Not too many people will write a check for $640 million; not too many bankers wanted to finance the largest condominium project in the U.S. With offices, we could say, "We have a long-term lease." With apartment sales at these crazy numbers, it was hard to get them to understand the asset we were sitting on. This is something new, and bankers don't necessarily want to break the mold. They have investors to answer to.
Also marketing the hotel condos. People didn't understand them. An individual buys a unit, puts it into a rental pool. When the owner isn't there, they rent it out and have cash flow. It's an interesting way to own real estate; having it carry itself when you're not in it. We went six weeks without selling one so we went back to the brokers. Now they're selling well, maybe better than the condos.
Q. What was the genesis of this project?
A. The first talks were in 1999. By 2000, 2001 the plan was to build the world's tallest building--all commercial. After 9/11, that was scrapped as not the greatest idea because the Chicago office market wasn't hot. By the end of 2003, we started sales with 500,000 square feet of commercial space. A year later, condo sales were so phenomenal we eliminated the offices.
Q. At this point, what aspects of construction have been most captivating for you?
A. What's fascinating for me as a developer is digging this deep to do caissons (supports for the building). Also, it's really interesting that we couldn't have built this 15 years ago in all concrete. It wasn't strong enough back then.
Q. Did 9-/11 change any of your construction plans?
A. We've always been good about building safety systems into our buildings; our name is on every one. So, post-9/11, we see that we've been doing everything right all along.
Q. Have you decided if you're going to add a spire to the top?
A. We don't have to decide yet, but it doesn't look like we'll have an architectural spire that brings it to the tallest building.
Q. Where else is Trump building?
A. Las Vegas, Ft. Lauderdale, Sunny Isles, Phoenix, New York, L.A., Palm Beach. Some cities will do anything to have Trump come in. It means they've arrived. We get great locations and we aren't known for overpaying.
Q. Who do you answer to on this project?
A. I report to my father. He's the ultimate decision-maker. I've been in my current position for one year. I've been working on the project since 2001, a year after I graduated form Wharton. I understand the numbers side and started as a grunt analyst.
Q. And Bill from the television show, "The Apprentice," what's he doing?
A. He's largely sales and marketing. He'll be with us for another year.
Q. What do you worry about? What keeps you up at night?
A. What don't I worry about? I want to see Chicago real estate thrive. We've made money for every other developer in Chicago by re-establishing the center. It's very exciting to see the Sun-Times go down and this go up.