In the Manhattan Real Estate Game, Billionaire Donald Trump Holds the Winning Cards

UPDATED 11/16/1981 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/16/1981 at 01:00 AM EST

Donald J. Trump is tall, fair and movie-star handsome. He tools around in a chauffeured black limo (license plate: DJT), rents houses in Aspen and the Hamptons and a penthouse on Fifth Avenue, and is married to a statuesque Austrian-Czech. He is not the newest TV heartthrob but the latest star in the high-stakes world of New York real estate. His aim: "to put a little show business into the profession."

With that in mind, the 35-year-old Trump has managed to put together some of the showiest deals in town. Among them: transforming a seedy 42nd Street hotel into the thriving glass-and-steel Grand Hyatt and convincing the city fathers to build a $375 million convention center on property he had optioned in 1975.

But his biggest coup so far is the 68-story, $100 million Trump Tower, a Xanadu for the '80s now being built on Fifth Avenue, smack-dab next to Tiffany's. Beginning with a six-story atrium that will house luxury shops like Buccellati jewelers, London's Asprey & Company and Charles Jourdan, the Tower boasts 22 floors of office space. But what sets the building apart is its 40 floors of luxury apartments—all with whirlpool-equipped marble bathrooms and sweeping city views, and some with private swimming pools.

The prices are commensurately lavish: $800,000 for a one-bedroom, and up to $10 million for the triplex penthouse (which Trump may set aside for himself). Cost has not deterred prospective buyers. Britain's Prince of Wales is considering a 24-room, $5 million spread, Johnny and Joanna Carson have inquired about a pied-à-terre, and scores of oil-rich Arabs and moneyed Europeans (among them a Rothschild and a Krupp) are signing up to move in once the building is ready for occupancy next fall.

Few will be wealthier than the landlord himself. As president of the Trump Organization, a Manhattan-based family firm with holdings from New York to California, he rules an empire with net assets estimated at more than $1 billion. "He's one of the most brilliant men I've ever come across," says an industry insider. "He knows what he wants and he gets it. Donald has intuition—and showmanship."

Both qualities came naturally to New York City-born Trump. He learned the business from his father, Fred, a onetime carpenter's helper who founded the firm in the '30s in Brooklyn and Queens and built it into a mini-empire of apartment buildings; the elder Trump still serves as board chairman. Donald, the fourth of five children, attended New York Military Academy and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where he graduated first in his class. In 1968 he joined his father's firm at the top and expanded the company's interests into Manhattan.

Trump earned enemies along the way. "He's incredibly arrogant, the epitome of egotism," says one broker. "He comes into a meeting and takes over like he's king." Trump is also attacked for trying to put the family name on every project; he even tried to coax the city into naming its new convention center after his father. "He's not one of the more enlightened developers," chimes in New York landmarks director Laurie Beckelman. She and other city conservationists were outraged last year when, while tearing down the old Bonwit Teller store to make way for Trump Tower, the developer demolished two Art Deco friezes the Metropolitan Museum of Art had expressed interest in acquiring. Trump's appraisal: "junk." He would have had to spend at least $32,000 to remove them intact.

For now, Trump, his 32-year-old wife, Ivana, and their son, Donald Jr., 3. rise above the fray in a penthouse not far from the Tower on Fifth Avenue. (The Trumps are expecting a second child this month.) Trump is now assisted in the firm by his brother, Robert, 33. Interior design is overseen by Ivana, a former model and downhill skier who competed in the 1972 Winter Olympics. She has a real estate broker's license. "Donald wouldn't want a wife," she says, "who couldn't keep up with him."

That may take some doing. Trump currently is drawing up plans for a casino, named for himself, in Atlantic City and is bidding $1.2 billion as an agent of the Prudential Insurance Company for the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center. His ultimate goal, according to friends, is to head up his own TV network. Trump doesn't expect to get there by being Mr. Nice. "Man is the most vicious of all animals," he notes, "and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat. You just can't let people make a sucker out of you."

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