Chased By "The Donald": Manhattan To Honolulu

Chased By "The Donald": Manhattan To Honolulu

Some people just know whom to follow.

I am talking about myself and Donald Trump, real estate magnate, television personality, and soon-to-be condo-hotel owner in Waikiki. However, not in the order you might have assumed.

Prior to moving here to Honolulu, I resided in Manhattan. I lunched at Jean-Georges in the Trump International Hotel and Tower at 1 Columbus Circle. I once chaperoned a pink-haired Kelly Osbourne (daughter of rocker Ozzy) from her hotel room at the same address to a press event downtown. I interviewed for a position with Trump himself in the stunning offices he keeps overlooking Central Park, at 57th Street and 5th Avenue. Although we didn't quite maintain a "Hey you want to borrow some of my hairspray"" kind of relationship, we had our run-ins.

So I wasn't all that surprised when I was told Trump was building not one, but four luxury apartment buildings in my off-the-radar Upper West Side neighborhood. Sure enough, a few months later as I was walking my dogs along the Hudson River's West Side promenade, I saw Trump's signature hanging in front of 4 skeletal masses that would eventually stretch over the West Side Highway, commanding the best of what New Jersey sunsets had to offer. The area was completely non-descript'even by New York standards. A parking garage, what looked like tenement buildings, and an old ShopRite supermarket 'a brand that I thought disappeared shortly after those cartoon can-can girl commercials did.

Yet magically, within 6 months, as I saw the first set of Mercedes and BMWs resting in the porte cochere of the first nearly completed tower, an amazing thing started happening. An upscale wine shop opened on West End Avenue, and 70th Street.

The dusty Italian restaurant that I dared not enter cleaned up and began offering outdoor seating for lunching business folk. A new gym popped up where an old senior center used to be. And lastly, trendy clothing boutiques began springing up within a 10-block radius, where before there were none.

Around this time I fled to Hawaii for fresher air, mountains over high rises, and poke over street corner pretzels. I began expounding to friends nationwide how fabulous the living was in Hawaii. "Not only does Hawaii have all the natural elements," I yelled, "But the marketplace is absolutely ripe for the picking." There followed a number of business ideas and banter that I shared with various acquaintances and associates over the last few years, which I strongly feel would--and still could be--runaway successes here on the islands. Yet it takes a certain kind of person to up and move those ideas across 3,000 miles of water.

A short two and a half years later, Trump seems to have gotten my message.

Last week Trump announced that he would slap his name on a 463-room luxury hotel-condominium that will serve as the anchor of Outrigger's Waikiki Beach Walk Project. Los Angeles-based Irongate developers purchased the location for the new Trump International Hotel and Tower Waikiki Beach Walk, at Saratoga and Kalia roads, for roughly $40 million. Never heard of Irongate? We hadn't either, so an interview with company founder Jason Grosfeld seemed imminent.

With only a 525-unit hotel in Baja, Mexico, and the nearly completed, 3-acre Watermark condo complex on the Ala Wai to their credit, the recently organized organization approached a number of top brands to operate their new digs within The Beach Walk Project.

"We needed an internationally recognizable name, and none of the five star brands had presence enough in both The States, as well as the Asian market, which obviously plays a huge roll in Hawaii," said Grosfeld. "Trump's stats outweighed the competitions in all the research we did they have incredible PR and marketing efforts."

Grosfeld added: "When we actually spoke on the phone, well, it wasn't a very long discussion. Trump had been interested in Honolulu for a long time, he saw the site we had, and it was a done deal."

With demolition beginning this week, construction scheduled for early 2007 and a completion date of 2009, it is clear that this 38-story tower has one distinct advantage over other product offerings in Waikiki.

"There hasn't been a new luxury product built in Waikiki in over 20 years. The Halekulani and Kahala Hotel have endemic problems--like room sizes and things you just can't change. But we are starting from scratch, in a new era. We will offer 30% to 100% larger living space in each room and ocean views. That pretty much tops the list as far as what travelers are looking for," Grosfeld added.

Almost. It's no surprise that service is a constant battle in Hawaii, with a lack of trained personnel readily available. It raises the question as to whether Trump will bring in staffers, or train local workers to run his show. It looks like he's prepared for the first: It was announced that the winner of Trump's 'Apprentice' game show will have the option of a key position at his new investment in the Pacific.

Grosfeld states that 85% of the units will have unobstructed ocean views, all will have floor to ceiling glass windows (a surprising rarity on the islands), and 90% will have private lanais. The lobby--a 2-story introduction to the hotel--will span the 6th and 7th floors with sweeping views over Fort DeRussey Park. Fountains, restaurants, porte cochere and gardens that tie in with the Outrigger project landscaping will dominate the ground level, while enclosed parking will occupy the first 5 floors.

While Irongate and Trump turn the next few years over to Gurin-Glass and Benjamin Woo architects (NY, Honolulu, respectively), the powers that be will remain busy crunching numbers and revving the engines of the great PR machine in the sky. Some of the first sounds we will hear from it"

"The Halekulani and Kahala offer great luxury product--and they are full more

often than not," said Grosfeld. "This is a great sign. The market has told us it will bear more luxury demand, and we will fill those gaps, at the very least.'"

You've got our attention, Mr. Trump, New Yorkers and Hawaiians alike.

"There hasn't been a new luxury product built in Waikiki in over 20 years. The Halekulani and Kahala Hotel have endemic problems, like room sizes and things you just can't change. But we are starting from scratch, in a new era." – Grosfeld