‘There is chaos in this building’ Debate over Trump’s branding divides Connecticut tower residents

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The latest bellwether election testing President Donald Trump’s popularity is playing out largely in secret, inside Stamford’s tallest building.

Among the voters: a billionaire in the penthouse whose wife is in Trump’s cabinet, and residents on floors below who want to crowbar the president’s name off the 34-storey Trump Parc Stamford tower.

The “Trump” brand has already been stripped off buildings in Toronto, Manhattan and Panama since the president’s election, chipping away at the reach of his real estate empire.

Taking it down in Stamford would be especially awkward because the resident who owns Trump Parc’s priciest condominium is Trump’s friend, the professional-wrestling mogul Vince McMahon – husband of Linda McMahon, who heads the US Small Business Administration.

So Tuesday’s vote to elect a new homeowners’ board that will govern the glass tower – a body that could lead a fight to take off Trump’s name – is anything but the typical humdrum condo-board affair.

The turbulence at Trump Parc has been driven not only by discontent with the Trump company’s management of the building, but also by the fact that some residents believe the affiliation with the president is hurting the value of their properties.

“A lot of people are unhappy,” says Saul Cohen, a retired businessman who lives on the 21st floor. “There is chaos in this building. It’s kind of a reflection of what is going on in Washington.”

The president’s son Eric Trump, who helps run his company, has personally waded in, visiting the building late last year as disgruntlement over the Trump company’s management grew. He recently invited the current condo board members to Trump Tower in Manhattan and pledged new resources to help update the building’s look.

In an email to The Washington Post, Eric Trump said improvements are in the works. “Our design team is working with the board on an unbelievable hallway renovation,” he wrote.

It remains to be seen whether that will quiet the brewing rebellion. In interviews, half a dozen residents said they are waiting to see what the Trump Organisation does to improve the building. But several also said that while they welcome cosmetic changes – particularly the riddance of a much-derided patterned blue hallway carpet – that does not address the big issue. Some people don’t want any connection to President Trump, they said.

The Trump Organisation does not own the 170-unit tower but is paid to manage it and for the use of the Trump name. According to the president’s 2017 financial disclosure form, his company earned between $100,000 and $1m in licencing royalties from the Stamford building.

Cohen said that when he and his wife moved in almost a decade ago, the brand was associated with luxury. But he said “Trump” now connotes divisiveness and raises “questions about immorality and ethics”.

Tuesday’s election is not a direct vote on whether to take down the Trump name, but it will determine how many Trump allies or critics are on the building’s governing board. The voters are a diverse group, with Republicans and Democrats and people of various races and religions, as well as voters who were born overseas.

Some owners are staunchly against any change.

“I love the name. I want to keep it. It’s associated with elegance,” says Lee Perloff, a retired accountant who lives on the 20th floor. “People are in awe of it when I tell them where I live.”

“There are insanely anti-Trump people in the building,” he adds, noting that other Stamford properties are also selling slowly.

Several board candidates declined to comment on the record. One noted that it was a very sensitive time because of the pending election.

The Trump Organisation’s history of fighting former partners in court has heightened tensions among Trump Parc condo owners. Company officials declined to comment on what penalties could be levied if the building’s board seeks to terminate its contract.

A copy of the original licencing agreement states that Trump had “the highest reputation” and that the agreement could be terminated only for very limited reasons, including if Trump went bankrupt or “is convicted of a felony in a non-appealable decision”.

Tuesday’s vote comes as the tax assessments and appraisal values of many units have dropped below what they were before the 2016 election, according to city records. Many estate agents now de-emphasise the building’s name in sales ads, instead touting the address: “1 Broad Street”.

The building has been hurt by an overall soft market for high-end housing in Stamford, but several estate agents said Trump Parc has an extra burden – a shrinking number of people willing to live in a Trump-branded building.

In 2015, 22 homes in the building sold for an average price of $1.05m, according to an analysis of city property records. In 2016, there were 20 sales at an average of $914,900. In 2017, there were eight sales averaging $881,563.

Some owners said they would like to sell but fear they would lose money if they put their homes on the market now.

In an email, the Trump Organisation said the Stamford tower “has continued to be one of the most sought after luxury buildings in Connecticut and beyond. Our expert management team does an outstanding job of delivering white glove service to all of the wonderful residents and their families.”

Vince McMahon’s penthouse unit has had a pronounced drop in value. He purchased it for $4.1m in 2009, drawing attention to Trump Parc as the brand-new building was trying to attract buyers. The price was $1m above the appraised value that year, according to public records. But in 2017, the appraised value of McMahon’s unit was down to $1.98m.

McMahon declined to comment on the amount he paid or the debate over the Trump name. A spokesperson for Linda McMahon at the Small Business Administration declined to comment.

A longtime Trump friend whose company, WWE, is based in Stamford, Vince McMahon made a fortune staging pro-wrestling extravaganzas. Trump famously appeared in his 2007 “Battle of the Billionaires” fight at WrestleMania, in which the real estate mogul slammed McMahon to the floor and later shaved his head.

Between 2007 and 2009, the McMahons gave $5m to Trump’s charitable foundation. Linda McMahon, a co-founder of WWE, contributed $7.5m to back Trump’s White House run.

Trump was not originally affiliated with the Stamford project, which was called Park Tower in plans filed with the city by its developers. But before it opened in 2009, Trump’s company signed on to manage the building.

The Trump Parc name has drawn disdain in this city of 128,000, which has sizeable Hispanic, black and Asian populations and is just north of New York City.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, members of the local Muslim community asked the building to drop the Trump affiliation after the then-candidate called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

The move drew support from the state governor Dannel Malloy, who called on Trump to waive any financial penalties residents might incur, The Connecticut Post reported. One of the developers, Thomas Rich, noted at the time that the decision was out of his hands, since the control of the building had shifted to the condo owners.

In the aisles of the Target store behind Trump Parc, and in the booths of Curley’s Diner, a few blocks away, the president’s building draws sharp reactions.

“Some people cut through the alleyway just to avoid seeing it,” says Christian Krog, a University of Connecticut student who recently joined a rally in front of Trump Parc to protest against the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

The location, he says, attracts critics of Trump who see it as “an avenue to protest and directly express grievances towards the president”.

Inside the building, neighbours have been buttonholing condo board candidates in the hallways in recent days, quizzing them about soaring parking fees (a problem unrelated to Trump management) and broaching the most divisive issue – Trump.

Because of the unusual interest in the board election this year, some residents said that, for the first time, they asked who would be counting the paper ballots. They were assured an attorney for the homeowners’ association will be present at Tuesday’s vote.

© The Washington Post