Trump Plans Big Complex on Ambassador Hotel Site

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Donald J. Trump, the brash and controversial builder from Manhattan, announced plans in Los Angeles on Saturday that apparently would lead to the demolition of the historic Ambassador Hotel as part of a mammoth commercial and residential redevelopment expected to cost more than $1 billion.

Trump also confirmed that his plans may include construction of the nation's tallest building--125 stories--on the hotel site, nearly 24 acres in the mid-Wilshire area.

The project would be Trump's first on the West Coast.

Trump, 43, revealed his plans at a packed news conference at the 69-year-old hotel, once an elegant gathering spot for the rich and famous and perhaps best known as the site of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination in 1968. The hotel closed a year ago after decades of decline.

Saturday's announcement was only the first step in what promises to be a long and grueling process to get the project approved and built. Trump estimated that the effort could take as long as five years.

His plans are likely to trigger opposition among preservation groups, who do not want the venerable hotel demolished, and Los Angeles education officials, who want the site for a 2,000-student high school.

Trump claimed the Ambassador is too run-down to renovate and the property too expensive to use for a school.

A news release from Trump's company said: "Buildings of architectural distinction and true California style will replace the unsafe and antiquated structures." When asked directly if the Ambassador might be saved as part of the project, Trump said that was "very unlikely."

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District said Saturday that the district remains firm in its resolve to use the site for a school and would condemn the property through eminent domain if necessary.

"We feel the higher cause here is a school," she said.

The Los Angeles Conservancy, a preservation group, also probably will oppose Trump's plans because of its interest in preserving the Ambassador.

"We still feel it would be possible to re-use the historic structures as part of a new project," conservancy director Jay Rounds said after the news conference.

What happens to the Ambassador property is critical to the planned restoration of the mid-Wilshire business district, whose importance as a commercial center has been overshadowed in recent years by downtown Los Angeles and areas farther west on Wilshire Boulevard. The Ambassador site is one of the last large open spaces left in urban Los Angeles that is available for large-scale development.

Trump did not detail what his project would contain, saying that he is three months away from unveiling specific plans. Several well-known architects are now developing plans for the site, he said.

Trump did say that the development probably will include a combination of apartments, condominiums, a hotel, offices, retail shops and a large ballroom known as the Cocoanut Grove, named after the Ambassador's nightclub that was so popular in the 1920s, '30s and '40s.

"We're committed to a mixed-use project that will have the stature of a Rockefeller Center (in New York)," said Scott Malkin, one of Trump's partners. The development will cost "well in excess of $1 billion," Malkin said.

Trump, in an interview after the news conference, confirmed that the project might include a 125-story office building. The 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago is currently the nation's tallest office tower.

"I think the people of Los Angeles would like that," he said.

However, Mayor Tom Bradley and City Councilman Nate Holden, both of whom joined Trump for his news conference, oppose that idea, believing a building of that size is inappropriate for that location. "I don't think that's a good idea," said Holden, in whose district the Ambassador is located.

Bradley also declined to pass judgment on Trump's overall plan. In a news release, he said, "I have not seen the plans for Mr. Trump's proposed development, so I can't comment on the specifics of the project."

Trump's news conference generally was marked by goodwill, with lots of hype mixed in. Others attending included City Council President John Ferraro and several American and European developers who are Trump's partners.

"I look forward to working with you . . . on a mixed-use development that is responsive to the needs of all the people," Bradley said.

"Why did it take you so long to get to Los Angeles?" Ferraro quipped.

Trump has acquired an interest in Wilshire Center Partners, which bought the hotel property last year for $64 million. The partnership has been renamed Trump Wilshire Associates, with Trump as the managing partner.

Trump declined to disclose how much he paid for his investment, saying only that it was a "substantial amount" that would get larger with time. It is believed, however, that he paid between $12 million and $13 million for a 20% interest in the property.

Trump made his mark on the East Coast during the 1980s with high-profile developments in Manhattan and Atlantic City. He currently is building the world's most expensive casino hotel, the $1-billion Taj Mahal, at the eastern end of the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

But, sometimes, there is a gulf between what Trump says he wants to do and what actually happens.

For instance, he has been trying since 1984 to develop a huge parcel of land on the upper West Side of Manhattan that is to have apartment towers, shopping malls, offices and a 150-story office building. The proposed development remains bogged down in controversy and local opposition.

In addition, Trump has not always been so bullish on Los Angeles. "I'm really concerned with the whole earthquake situation in L.A.," he told The Times in 1988. "I am a tremendous believer that someday Las Vegas may be the West Coast."

Saturday, Trump expressed no such doubts. What about earthquakes and their effect on a 125-story building? "It's no problem," he replied, adding that his buildings would survive.

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