Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2005 — a day that will live, if not in infamy, then at least in the memories of those who attended one of the biggest events to take place in White Plains in a longtime. Trump Tower at City Center, the 35-story luxury building with 212 condominiums, had been completed and the evening of the 21st was set aside for a grand-opening celebration
Not only would White Plains Hospital benefit from the event, but guests would have a chance to meet and mingle with none other than Donald J. Trump himself and his wife, Melania.
At the time, Trump’s NBC-TV show “The Apprentice” was a raging success in its second year and among those accompanying Trump to the event was Bill Rancic, one of the young would-be executives on the show vying for Trump’s favor and hoping not to be the one that week to whom Trump bellowed, “You’re fired.”
Now, some 16 years later — four of which were marked by the developer’s controversial presidency — the Trump attraction has morphed into what some consider a distraction, and the condominium owners at Trump Tower at City Center have decided to remove the Trump name from the building. A move like that would have seemed like heresy, if not sheer lunacy, at the time of the big opening.
Then White Plains Mayor Joseph Delfino, District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, White Plains Hospital CEO Jon Schandler and developer Louis Cappelli and his wife Kylie were among the estimated 700 people who had assembled for the event, which hit new heights for the city in glitz, glamour, Champagne, hors d’oeuvres and jockeying for position as Trump worked the room.
John Bailey, publisher of the White Plains news website wpcnr.com and host of the cable-TV program “White Plains Week,” recalls that Trump made it a point to smile and have a friendly word for every well-wisher while at the same time refraining from shaking too many hands because of his self-acknowledged germophobia.
“It was like a Broadway opening without the show. It was like a ‘Who’s Who,’” Bailey tells WAG. “Trump moved around the room like the celebrity he was back then. He was at the height of his television appeal.”
Bailey says that he walked up to Trump and congratulated him on the opening, Trump said, “thank you” and they shook hands.
“Getting a Trump-branded property in your town put you on the map at that time,” Bailey says.
Cappelli, who built Trump Tower as part of his City Center retail and residential project on the site of a former Macy’s store, had worked out a deal to license Trump’s name for the building. The Trump Organization also was brought on board for marketing and building management services. Success was not only written all over the project but so was practical reality.
Fast forward to 2021, when “The Apprentice” has long faded from view and with it much of Trump’s support after insurrection at the U.S. Capitol intended to block Congress from formalizing Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. Times changed and changing times were felt within Trump Tower at City Center.
A majority of the condominium owners came to believe that the time had come to remove the Trump identity from the building, just as it has been removed from some other properties that licensed the Trump name, including the 34-story condominium building Trump Parc Stamford in Connecticut.
Anthony Schembri, president of Trump Tower at City Center’s board of managers, tells WAG, “It wasn’t uncommon for the brand name to be brought into discussions at board meetings, but it wasn’t until January (after the assault on the Capitol) that the board decided to put out a survey to really take the temperature of the unit owners and just get a consensus of the direction that the unit owners wanted.”
Schembri says the outcome was that the overwhelming majority, about 68%, wanted a name change from Trump. He says a special meeting of the owners was called so that formal votes could be taken regarding changing the building’s branding as well as making official changes to legal documents.
The Trump Organization, as the building’s management agent, was handling the day-to-day financial management of the building.
“They sent out our payments, they received our maintenance fees, they managed our general ledger, they handled our operating and reserve accounts,” Schembri says.
He adds that at the same time the rebranding was being considered, a request for proposals was issued for a management agent. He says that The Trump Organization was among those responding but soon removed its name from consideration when it became apparent that the building’s branding was going to be changed.
“We are not the first Trump building that was considering a rebranding and a name change so this was not a new concept for The Trump Organization, and we’ve worked with them for over 15 years and have always had a good relationship,” Schembri says. “Representatives of The Trump Organization attended our board meetings, and they were hearing some of the concerns and listening. They assured us there would be a seamless transition. This was done gracefully and they worked very closely with our new managing agent, and this was a very amicable transition.”
Schembri says that a committee has been established to find a new name for the building and they also may bring in a marketing firm for assistance with the rebranding.
“We’re moving swiftly, because the building needs an identity and we want to do all that we need to in order to expedite that where we can,” Schembri says “The building isn’t going anywhere, and the building will maintain the same level of glitz and glamour and opulence that existed when the building first opened.”
Alan Neiditch, a former president of the building’s board, who owns condos in the City Center building and was an active real estate investor and broker in Westchester County, says that some people who bought units in the building did so at least in part because of the Trump name:
“It was that luster of quality and luxury. Many people wanted that and were very happy with it.
“As his presidency continued, people became more unhappy. We heard anecdotal stories from individuals and brokers and sellers that buyers wouldn’t come to the building….But there weren’t really any hard and fast statistics that proved that the name was hurting the values in the building. It was a terrific property. It was managed very well and the building has a good staff with good amenities and was going very well.
“But, I think, after the insurrection on Jan. 6, it became an overwhelming groundswell of support to reevaluate the name. The name now symbolized divisiveness, politics.”
As of mid-August, the Trump name still was seen on a sign facing Martine Avenue and on the marquee at the building’s main entrance.