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Trump Tower by Malaysian developer opens in Vancouver

 | March 1, 2017

In December 2015, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson wrote to Tiah Joo Kim, with a petition signed by more than 50,000 people, demanding Trump name be removed.

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VANCOUVER: The first hotel to bear the name of US President Donald Trump since he took office has a view of Vancouver harbour and snow-capped peaks beyond. That’s where its postcard-perfect image ends.

Vancouver’s mayor, during the contentious run-up to the Republican primaries to the south, said the tycoon’s brand doesn’t belong in a city that prides itself on openness.

The tower’s wealthy Malaysian developer has faced demands to rebrand the project. Protesters, who had planned two separate demonstrations, gathered Tuesday outside the main entrance, where police stood by a steel barricade for the building’s debut.

Trump’s sons Donald Jr and Eric – along with Tiah Joo Kim, scion of one of Malaysia’s richest tycoons and head of Vancouver-based developer Holborn Group – were present for Tuesday’s grand opening of the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver, located on a downtown thoroughfare where a giant silver “TRUMP” logo faces a modest brick church.

Joo Kim’s father, Tony Tiah Thee Kian, who is chairman of TA Enterprise Bhd, sat with his wife in the front row.

“We wanted to be able to change a skyline,” Donald Trump Jr said at the opening ceremony. Calling Vancouver “one of the great cities of the world,” his younger brother Eric said that it’s “so fitting for the Trump brand.” Their father announced the C$360 million (RM1.2 billion) condominium and hotel project in 2013.

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‘Conspicuous consumption’

Yet from the outset, locals have questioned whether the Trump tower’s Manhattan mentality and over-the-top opulence are suited to a city known for an outdoorsy, laid-back lifestyle, where residents wear ski jackets to upscale restaurants.

“They aren’t embracing who we are and what we are,” City Councilor Kerry Jang said in an interview. “This kind of conspicuous consumption, lifestyles of the rich and famous – it’s not us.”

More than 200 demonstrators showed up at the ceremony, according to a police estimate. They included indigenous people beating on leather drums, and people who left sticky notes on the granite facade saying, “Not welcome in Vancouver” and “Love Trumps Hate.” Some of the messages were supportive, including “Good Job!” scrawled in chalk on the sidewalk.

The tower, said to have 63 stories in early press releases about the project, is now billed as a 69-story building. There’s no floor 13 or any floor ending in 4. The number 4 is considered unlucky in Chinese because it sounds like the word for death. Trump Tower, the president’s flagship residence in New York, is 10 stories shorter than Trump claims, partly because it skips the sixth through 13th floors.

Units sold

Of the property’s 217 luxury residences, 214 units were sold by last May at an average price of C$1,615 a square foot – a Canadian record at the time for condos, according to Holborn Group. Three penthouses are still to be marketed, one as large as 4,400 square feet (409 square meter).

Among the perks available to the tower’s well-to-do residents is an “attache,” whose duties include having pets walked and fed, and can set up flights on a private jet. Tots can be pampered alongside their well-coiffed parents at a 6,000-square-foot spa that offers special treatments and rates for children.

The hotel is promoting that its Drai’s pool bar and lounge, set to open shortly, will “reinvigorate the nightlife scene in Vancouver.” It’ll have to do that before 2am, the closing time imposed when it applied for a liquor licence.

Controversy around the tower mounted after Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015, vowing to ban Muslims from entering the US and to build a wall to keep out Mexicans.

‘Ignorant ideas’

“Trump’s name and brand have no more place on Vancouver’s skyline than his ignorant ideas have in the modern world,” Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson wrote in December 2015 to Tiah, backing a petition signed by more than 50,000 people demanding that the Trump name be removed from the tower.

His letter called Trump’s positions “hateful” and at odds with the tolerance that’s helped Vancouver consistently rank among the world’s most livable cities. About 40 per cent of Vancouverites were born outside of Canada, with China being the biggest country of origin. The mayor, who declined to comment further, won’t be attending the tower’s opening, according to his office.

One group of protesters planned a “Trump Welcome Party” for what it describes as a “misogynist, racist, fascist, 1 per cent hotel.” The other group planned a march to repudiate what it said would be “a time in our city where a name of such a hateful man will be celebrated.”

Unique views

The gleaming tower – twisting 45 degrees into the sky, meaning no two views in the building are alike – was originally scheduled to open last summer. But the design made it complex to build. Holborn filed a lawsuit last month against a contractor for losses and damages over the delays. Among Holborn’s complaints were that the contractor failed to provide proper security for the project.

That was evident in April 2016, when a Mexican-Canadian construction worker, who wasn’t employed by the project, managed to climb the tower to hang a Mexican flag at the top.

Diego Reyna pulled the stunt to show Trump that “he is benefiting from us, and that we are working hard on his projects and that we are not all criminals,” he told CBC News, saying he’d “seen every race and every religion working in that building.”

Trump, the first billionaire US president, didn’t divest his holdings upon taking office, bucking a norm established over four decades by US leaders and their deputies. His decision poses unprecedented conflicts of interest given Trump’s estimated $3.6 billion in assets and more than $600 million of debt tying him to businesses and governments in about 20 countries.

Qatar, China

The president has said the company won’t do any new international deals while he’s in office, leaving the opportunity to complete the Vancouver tower as well as a golf course in Dubai. Still, potential conflicts remain.

A new hotel planned for Dallas is backed by investors from Turkey, Qatar and Kazakhstan, and the state-owned Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd is a tenant of Trump Tower in New York.

Under the 2013 agreement, Holborn owns the Vancouver development and licences the Trump name, and Trump’s company manages the hotel. The US leader earned US$35,714 in fees from the Vancouver project, according to his 2016 financial disclosure form.

An investigation of public records by Postmedia News in January found that owners of Vancouver condos include a US tech billionaire, a former Andorran diplomat, a wealthy Iranian family and an investment firm sharing the address of a Hong Kong businessman whose company is backed by the Chinese government.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka – whose husband, Jared Kushner, is an adviser to the president – has closely steered the project. Speaking at an invitation-only launch event in Vancouver in October 2015, Tiah compared his pitch process to an episode of “The Apprentice” – except Ivanka was the arbiter.

“You know, Joo Kim, it’s really important in your presentation that you connect with Ivanka,” Tiah said he was told by a Trump Organization executive. “So that’s when I learned a little bit about the dynamics of the Trump family.”


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