When You See 'Trump' On A Building, It Might Not Be What You Think : It's All Politics Plenty of buildings still boast Donald Trump's name in Manhattan, where he became famous as a real estate developer. But he doesn't actually own most of them — and never has.

When You See 'Trump' On A Building, It Might Not Be What You Think

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Speaking of Donald Trump, by the way, Trump got his start in real estate. And over the years, he has owned and sold many of New York City's great buildings, including the Plaza Hotel, the St. Moritz. These days, Trump's real estate holdings are surprisingly sparse, but his image as a developer endures. Janet Babin reports from member station WNYC.

JANET BABIN, BYLINE: Ever since his presidential campaign took off, Donald Trump has become a full-blown New York City tourist attraction.

NED CALLON: Now, on the other side of the street, number 40 Wall Street, now known as the Trump Building.

BABIN: French and Chinese tourists snap selfies beneath the oversized gold Trump sign as tour guide Ned Callon shows them around.

CALLON: He's not a shy man. His name is on every single one of his buildings here in New York City.

BABIN: The Trump name appears on a series of luxury towers overlooking the Hudson River. But like many of his Manhattan properties, Trump doesn't actually own them. The towers are part of a West Side development that solidified Trump's real estate legacy in New York. They also set a pattern he followed on other projects of licensing his name to other developers. Back in the 1970s, The Donald wanted to build the biggest shopping mall on the East Coast here and the city's tallest building - 150 stories. The project, called Riverside South, was controversial, says developer Jeff Gural.

JEFF GURAL: Riverside South was a very risky project at the time, and a lot of people questioned the viability of building apartments so far west.

BABIN: Trump's plan met with fierce opposition from the community. Ronnie Eldridge was the feisty city councilwoman who led the fight.


DONALD TRUMP: Ronnie Eldridge doesn't know what she's talking about. Ronnie Eldridge is second-rate in just about every way.

BABIN: Trump's insults haven't changed much in 25 years. His personal attack on Eldridge sounds a lot like his recent comments about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.


TRUMP: She's just a woman that doesn't have a great grasp of finance or anything else.

BABIN: At the time, Trump reportedly owed Chase Bank millions on the loan for the West Side property. As he waited for city approval, his interest bills were piling up. Meanwhile, his Atlantic City projects were going bust. Councilwoman Eldridge used Trump's money woes to argue against the development.


RONNIE ELDRIDGE: Trump owes close to $250 million to Chase Manhattan Bank for the site. He is in a half a dozen bankruptcy situations and has spent the last two years averting a complete collapse.

BABIN: Trump ultimately won city approval, but he ended up having to sell the development to investors from Hong Kong long before it was finished. Part of the deal included leaving Trump's name on the buildings. Daniel Gutman's an environmental consultant who helped to shape Riverside South, also called Trump Place.

DANIEL GUTMAN: So even though people think it was Trump's project, at that point, he had sold it. The only thing that remained was his name on it.

BABIN: According to public records and research from Actovia Commercial Mortgage Intelligence, 17 Manhattan buildings bear the Trump name, but he only owns a handful of them. Gabby Warshawer is the director of research with cityrealty.com. She says Trump's West Side project is an example of his real success in licensing his name to other projects and buildings.

GABBY WARSHAWER: Because a lot of buildings have been branded as Trump properties, it's sometimes assumed that Trump owns a lot more buildings than he does.

BABIN: Trump may no longer be considered one of the city's pre-eminent real estate developers, but he's been successful at making the buildings that do bear his name synonymous with opulence. Warshawer says the condo units in Trump buildings command a premium. The properties also provide Trump with international name recognition - a priceless commodity for any presidential hopeful. For NPR News, I'm Janet Babin in New York.

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