The building is nice. Is Vancouver stuck with Trump?

Arthur Erickson’s swan song tower design is rising to take its place in the Vancouver skyline, but is Vancouver stuck with Trump? When will it be clear there is no longer value in the Trump Name?

“I’m actually much more laid back than most people think,” says Donald Trump to CTV’s Tamara Taggart during one of his brief 2014 Vancouver visits while promoting the new Trump International Hotel and Tower. After this dubious assertion, The Donald explained that this easygoing nature is why he loves Vancouver, told Tamara she was a terrible reporter and then he fired her. (She did ask him to do the last thing.)

This light-hearted (in retrospect) banter was response to the question of whether or not the Trump brand of flashy, aggressive ultra-capitalism was a natural fit for the laid-back west coast vibe of Lululemonland. Lately, the ubiquitous orange businessman has raised the ire of everyone from Mayor Gregor Robertson to local journalists who are calling for Holborn Group to remove the Trump name from the building due to Trump’s racist and xenophobic ranting on the campaign trail.

For myriad contractual and legal reasons, this is probably not going to happen. Holborn has, however, taken a baby step to distancing themselves from the man at the centre of the tempest. This mild statement is it: “Holborn is a Vancouver-based private real estate development company that owns Trump Vancouver. When Trump Vancouver opens in 2016, we will create as many as 300 jobs. Holborn, a company that has contributed immensely to the growth of Vancouver, is not in any way involved in US politics. As such, we would not comment on Mr Trump’s personal or political agenda, nor any political issues, local or foreign. Our efforts remain focused on the construction of what will soon be the finest luxury property in Vancouver and beyond.”

Joo Kim Tiah, CEO of Holborn Group, has a personal reason for wanting a connection with Trump. “I really connected with Donald Jr.,” the 37-year-old says about Donald’s son, whom he met while at school. “We both have very successful, demanding fathers with high expectations of us. I knew we would work with each other very well to make sure this project is a spectacular success.”

Originally slated to be a posh Chinese members-only club, Holborn bought the land and and slated it to be a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. This plan failed in 2009 due to “global economic turmoil.” The lot, in one of the prime blocks in the downtown core, sat empty for three years. But Holborn had gotten the late Arthur Erickson to design an iconic twisting tower for the Ritz-Carlton project and they weren’t about to abandon the architect’s final tower design in the city he loved.

But Joo Kim and Holborn can’t catch a break with what should be a flagship property. Donald Trump himself threatens more “global economic turmoil” if he’s elected, and will particularly disrupt current US trade with China and Saudi Arabia – two of the major markets for luxury real estate and expensive hotel rooms in Vancouver.

After the residential portion of the building is sold, the Trump Organization is going to be running the hotel side of things. The 147-room hotel will include an exclusive lobby champagne lounge, Ivanka’s Mar-a-Lago luxury spa, a high-end Chinese restaurant and Vancouver’s first pool bar and nightclub, which, according to press releases, “will entertain the most coveted V.I.P. parties and draw celebrated DJs from across the globe, creating the most glamorous entertainment centre in Vancouver.”

But is anyone still interested? The Trump brand has always carried a waft of trying-too-hard-to-be-posh bordering on tacky, even before you throw in the recent racism, misogyny and lowbrow mud-flinging shenanigans surrounding the man and the name.

While many Vancouver architecture and city planning critics like the building, most people agree that the Trump name has become a massive liability. In the end it’s all on the shoulders of Joo Kim, a humble son with a load of ambition and a strong desire to make his mark on Vancouver. His love for this city seems legitimate, though his luck so far with real estate has been very bad. And it may be getting worse. Time will tell if the name Trump starts to have a quantifiable negative instead of positive value, and we just might see Holborn cut its losses and change the branding. Hopefully they won’t go for “Putin’s Palace”.


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