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For Schwarz, the opposition comes down to what he calls "a fundamental misunderstanding of what we're creating." These "condotels," as they're dubbed in industry circles, have been sprouting up around the country. Trump is already building condotels in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Florida. His people point to the Trump International Hotel and Tower, on Columbus Circle, as a similar enterprise. Trump's website muddies that argument: It bills the 52-story structure as "a super-luxury hotel and residential building."
Zoning rules against residential hotels in that part of Soho may provide the only means of blocking Trump. Evidently, a lot is riding on interpretation of those rules. At the city's zoning agencies, no one is offering any yet. City planning commission spokesperson Rachaele Raynoff punts the issue. "It is the buildings department that will determine what is residential and what is not," she says. Her counterpart at Buildings, Jennifer Givner, says officials haven't made any decisions about the plan. "It depends on what is being proposed, and we don't have a proposal in front of us," she explains. On May 16, the department sent back the initial application on various technical grounds. Now, she adds, it's all "in the hands of the developers."
That's exactly what worries opponents. Queens city councilman Tony Avella, who heads the zoning subcommittee and opposes the Soho project, argues that the real estate industry has always had too much power at City Hall. As for Trump's obvious fortune and fame, he says, "It doesn't help us, dare I say."
Already, the buildings department has issued a permit for excavation work on the site, which Schwarz says will begin soon. "We see no reason for this project to be stalled," he reports.
Well, maybe there's one. Opponents readily admit they have a visceral reaction to the proposed height, not to mention the traffic it might bring. Some, like the Soho Alliance's Sweeney, admit a visceral reaction to the Donald himself. "The guy repulses me," the activist confides. With his flamboyance, his glitziness, Trump is totally out of keeping with what Sweeney calls the "downtown aesthetic." "Trump must think he's going to transform this neighborhood," he says, walking past the Spring Street lot. Sweeney expects the tycoon would make the area so glitzy, so tacky, it'll be like Atlantic City. He invokes the spirit of Jane Jacobs, who proved that enough small people, sufficiently mad, can stymie a big developer.
"It would be hilarious if this project doesn't get done," he says devilishly. "It would be like egg on his face."