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Trump Tower's Public Gardens Aren't as Public as They Should Be

Grant Whittington headshotWords by Grant Whittington
Leadership & Transparency
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Republican nominee, presidential candidate, business mogul, TV personality and ... gardener? Donald Trump’s resume boasts many impressive accomplishments. But among the feats lies his negotiation to include somewhat secret but public gardens in his famous Fifth Avenue Trump Tower.

The garden conception came about in 1979, when Trump finalized a deal with New York City to increase his masterpiece by approximately 200,000 square feet -- 20 floors -- in exchange for 15,000 square feet of public space devoted to gardens and atriums. The additional 20 floors were contracted as condos and office space, and now represent just about all of Trump’s ownership of the tower (244,000 square feet), Crain’s New York reported on Sunday. Forbes appraised Trump’s remaining stake of the building at around $530 million — not a bad price considering it wouldn’t have been possible without the so-called “public gardens”

New York City is home to around 500 privately-owned public spaces (POPS), many of which were created by developers who, like Trump, were negotiating for taller buildings. At least five buildings donning Trump’s name, including Trump International Hotel and Trump Palace, have POPS with dedicated gardens and atriums.

While it seems like a reasonable deal for both the city and the developer to construct atriums in exchange for building expansion, it’s not always a fair tradeoff. And that’s the case with Trump Tower. While Trump profited off the 20 extra floors granted, the public gardens are tucked away, unassuming and unadvertised — leaving the city to question just how public these spaces really are.

The city government ensures that Trump Tower’s atrium must be available to the public seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with the gardens’ doors open when the building’s stores are. But Trump has abused the public space to push his political agenda and advertise his campaign, setting up news conferences and shooing away tourists and city-goers, Crain's New York reported.

The atrium is granted four days a year for private events, reports Reuters, but the request must first be passed by city officials. Violations for closing off the 6,000-square-foot atrium, which features a gold lining and a waterfall, to the public without permission consists of a $4,000 fine. 

City officials will also meet to decide whether Trump faltered in the agreement after he swapped a 22-foot-long bench in the public space with kiosks selling apparel sporting his “Make America Great Again” slogan, Reuters reported earlier this month. The city already fined Trump $4,000 for removing the bench, but the fine could continue to grow if the bench is not returned.

The public gardens, situated throughout different floors of Trump’s 58-story tower, is one of the biggest secrets amid the hustle and bustle of America’s most populated city. What’s left to be seen is whether or not Trump continues to use his atrium as a private venue to campaign his run for the presidency, or if he keeps the public space public.

Image credit: m01229/Flickr

Grant Whittington headshotGrant Whittington

Based in Washington, DC, Grant works as a program assistant at SEEP Network, an international development nonprofit. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. Grant is passionate about humanitarianism and finding sustainable approaches to international development. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

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