Trump Building clings to jewelry giant Tiffany — for now

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Jiffany & Co. has delayed its departure from Donald Trump’s 6 East 57th Street in New York, a property the jewelry company has occupied for a few years as it renovates its flagship Fifth Avenue location next door. The move allowed Trump to keep a glitzy retailer in his building at a time when e-commerce and the coronavirus have made it difficult to fill large storefronts.

Trump’s history with Tiffany goes back more than half a century. “From the time I took an apartment in Manhattan in 1971 and started walking the streets, the site that excited me the most was the eleven-story building at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue that housed Bonwit Teller,” Trump wrote in The The art of dealing, referring to a department store next to Tiffany’s. Trump began referring to the Bonwit Teller space as the “Tiffany location.” He ended up building a tower on the site, which he claimed he planned to call Tiffany Tower. But, as Trump tells the story, a friend encouraged him to use his own name instead, so it became Trump Tower.

Building Trump Tower was no small feat. Through a series of deals, the property developer cobbled together the plot, teaming up with the Equitable Life Assurance Society to take control of the land, buying air rights over Tiffany to expand the building, then lobbying on a man named Leonard Kandell to give him a 100-year lease on nearby 6 East 57th Street that allowed Trump to expand the footprint. Tiffany hung on the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, but Trump took control of the plots surrounding it, wrapping the jeweler up with Trump Tower, which opened in 1983, on its south side and 6 East 57th Street on its east wall.

In 1995, Trump hosted Nike at 6 East 57th Street. Around the same time, Trump borrowed $93 million against the building, agreeing to pay 7.125% interest through 2017. Despite the interest payments, it turned out to be a bargain for Trump. Nike’s lease was due to expire around 2010, but the paperwork allowed the shoe company to renew for another five years. Nike remained in the building and extended its lease again in 2015, the year Trump announced his presidential run, paying around $16 million a year.

Then things got complicated. After Trump’s 2016 election victory, Trump Tower turned into a fortress, with media camped below capturing a parade of people riding the elevators to meet the president-elect. The hype was not good for the neighborhood. Tiffany told investors that its holiday sales fell 14% that year, in part due to “post-election traffic disruptions.” At least the Trumps were still buying — they arrived at the White House on Inauguration Day with a Tiffany blue box to give to the Obamas.

The presidency has stoked additional tensions on the bloc. Nike had been a big supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact brokered under Obama. Trump pulled out of it almost immediately. Then, in September 2017, the former president got into the kneeling NFL players controversy, thinking with a crowd in Alabama, “Wouldn’t you like to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, say: that son of —– is off the field right now. Out! He is fired. Nike sided with the knees, featuring quarterback Colin Kaepernick in its marketing efforts, which the former president described as “a terrible message”. In a 2018 interview with the daily call, Trump did not ask Nike to change its decision. “Nike is one of my tenants,” he explained. “They pay a lot of rent.”

In fact, Nike had just moved from 6 East 57th Street, leaving early to move a few blocks south of 650 Fifth Avenue. Two Nike employees said Forbes at the time politics played a small role in motivating the move, but they said the main driver was the floor plan of 6 East 57th Street, a vertical building with a massive hole in the middle. For a time, Nike continued to provide rent, which it helped cover by subletting its space to Tiffany. It offered a saving grace to Trump, allowing him to avoid an embarrassing vacancy.

It also worked out well for Tiffany, who got a place to move to while she renovated her building next door. In 2019, signs pointing to the jeweler appeared in the large arched window of Trump’s 6 East 57th Street facade. Tiffany’s website made it clear the move was only temporary, urging customers to visit 6 East 57th Street “until the reinvention is complete in late 2021.”

Gradually, this date changed. In September 2020, the site explained that the work would be carried out “in the spring of 2022”. In October last year, the date was moved again, this time to “autumn 2022”. Last month, a security guard posted outside the Tiffany-owned store said the jeweler would leave Trump’s building in mid-November. Nike’s lease expired sometime between 2018 and present, but Tiffany, Nike and the Trump Organization have not confirmed exactly when. The jeweler remained in the building, suggesting that Tiffany now pays rent directly to the Trump Organization.

At a minimum, Trump should get about an extra year of tenure from Tiffany. The former president, or his underlings at the Trump Organization, are almost certainly on the hunt for a replacement retailer right now. It’s possible they’ve already found someone but haven’t announced it yet. Any company that moves in will have to agree to be associated with Trump, whose company did not respond to requests for comment. If the former president can’t find a new tenant, he’ll be left with around 65,000 empty square feet – a big black eye just around the corner from Trump Tower.

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