Soho hotel un-Trumped; But condos still need auditing

The de-Trumped newly renamed The Dominick Hotel, at Spring and Varick Sts., right after the Trump Soho name had been removed from its canopy, briefly leaving a ghost image. Photo by Tequila Minsky

At the ribbon-cutting for the Trump Soho condo-hotel in April 2010, Donald Trump — ever the salesman — proudly proclaimed it would be a smashing success.

“I think the building will do well,” he told The Villager back then, adding, “We’re…involved in the management.”

The hotel’s development partners were Bayrock and Alex Sapir, while the Trump Organization was its manager.

“I think the Trump Soho is going to do records in terms of volume and food,” the famously coiffed developer continued.

As for the 46-story behemoth’s gargantuan size, he stated, “We had a zoning that allowed us to build this tall, and we took advantage of that. I think it’s going to be a landmark in New York.”

What of all the community opposition from Soho residents, who even filed a lawsuit against the project?

“They’re all our friends now,” Trump brashly assured. “Everybody likes our building.”

Uh huh, sure.

But fast-forward seven-plus yeas and there was no way Trump could put a positive spin on the recent decision to have the hotel’s new owners — CIM Group, a California investment firm — buy out his management contract. The hotel’s business has plummeted ever since Trump’s candidacy for president last year. Under the contract, Trump had to pay the owners if the hotel and condos underperformed.

As of last Wednesday, the Trump Organization was no longer involved in the place, which has been redubbed The Dominick Hotel. The Trump Soho signage was quietly removed late last Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.

Business at all of Trump’s hotels is reportedly down 3 percent since the election — it’s predictably doing worse in blue areas, like New York City, and better in red ones where the president enjoys political support.

As has previously been reported, in 2011, Trump and others paid $3 million to settle condo buyers’ complaints that Trump and his children artificially pumped up sales figures for the Soho location. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance came under scrutiny for letting Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., off the hook in that case.

As reported by The New York Times, a separate lawsuit charged that the project was backed by felons and Russian financing and that a sketchy Russian F.B.I. informant helped facilitate the deal.

Vance may have looked the other way, but luckily we have the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation on our side. Before the building was completed, G.V.S.H.P. persistently argued that the Trump Soho would be illegal — that it would violate the district’s zoning. The Soho Alliance similarly charged that the gargantuan condo-hotel would be a “Trojan horse,” that it would allow people to live residentially in a manufacturing-zoned area that, at that time, did not allow that use.

Speaking to The Villager recently after the announcement that Trump would be pulling out of the hotel, Andrew Berman, the society’s director, recalled of the project, “It was very clear that this was designed to violate the zoning. The developer was advertising it as a residence.”

As a result of pressure by G.V.S.H.P. and also the Soho Alliance, then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer crafted a restrictive declaration for the hotel’s condo units: As a result, stays in its condos are limited to no more than 29 days in a row within a 36-day period, and 120 days total per year — basically, enforcing the distinction between transient hotel units and residences. An outside auditor is required periodically to examine the records for the condo units.

(Back at the ribbon-cutting in 2010, Trump confidently assured us that the auditing would all be done by “computer” and, of course, would be “a great system.”)

The restrictive declaration also banned the building’s condo units from having “stoves, fixed ranges, dishwashers or washer dryers,” as in, things that would encourage or facilitate long-term stays.

Sadly, however, this restrictive declaration — specifically, the requirement to audit the condos’ usage — was not initially enforced by the Department of Buildings. G.V.S.H.P. reached out to Quinn and Stringer to pressure them on the issue, but according to Berman, got no response for “many, many months.”

Finally, in 2013, G.V.S.H.P. filed a Freedom of Information Law request and found that for the first three years or so, there was absolutely no enforcement. According to Berman, neither Quinn nor Stringer ever had asked for an audit to be done or to see the audit results.

Following the FOIL, enforcement finally started to be done at the end of the Bloomberg administration and has continued under de Blasio. When de Blasio became mayor, Berman noted, G.V.S.H.P. “asked for vigorous enforcement” of the Trump Soho restrictive declaration.

Consequently, to date, the hotel has been fined about a half-million dollars for violating the “restrictive dec.”

“The de Blasio administration has not been much more forthcoming than the Bloomberg administration,” Berman noted. “But when we FOIL’ed, we saw they were at least doing audits and fining.”

The preservationist said his group would keep filing a FOIL every year regarding the auditing of the Trump Soho condos “to ensure that it happens.”

As a result of G.V.S.H.P. “doggedly shaming” two mayoral administrations, as Berman put it, the agreement’s terms are now actually being enforced.

“It’s making it harder for the Trump Soho to get around the law and make money in violation of the zoning,” he noted.

The condos, no doubt, were intended to be a major part of the property’s moneymaking calculus. But, by all reports, it’s been a failed business model. When The Villager recently inquired about them, the building’s “director of owner relations,” who declined to give his name, told us, “The sponsor is not selling any units.” Condos that are already owned may be available for resale on StreetEasy, however — but be forewarned, buyers, G.V.S.H.P. will be watching!

Responding to Berman’s accusations that the former borough president was AWOL on calling for enforcement, Tyrone Stevens, press secretary for now-City Comptroller Stringer, issued the following statement:

“As borough president, Scott Stringer partnered with local groups and other elected officials to fight for restrictions at the Trump Soho property that would benefit the community. These efforts resulted in an agreement that gave the Department of Buildings the authority to enforce and audit the property to ensure compliance with the city’s zoning laws. And it was Scott Stringer’s office that discovered that the property was being advertised for residences and promptly notified D.O.B., which led the city to take a hard stance on this project. To be clear: Any version of events to the contrary is a fiction. That’s why these claims aren’t just wild distortions of the facts — they’re totally bogus.”

Yes, it’s true that D.O.B. is the agency responsible for the actual enforcement here. But couldn’t Stringer simply have used his position as a bully pulpit to ensure that it occurred, or simply requested to see the audit results? Or…are those just…“alternative facts”? What exactly was so complicated about doing any of this?

At any rate, great job, G.V.S.H.P.! This might not exactly be on par with Robert Mueller’s federal obstruction investigation. But, on a local level, it was very important to ensure that enforcement against the Trump Soho was actually occurring — and also that it will now continue against The Donald-less Dominick Hotel.

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