British Columbia·Analysis

Trump business trumps Trump name in Trump tower

Outraged by Donald Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the United States, Canadians are calling for the removal of his name from towers in Vancouver and Toronto. But unless Trump becomes a business liability, that's unlikely to happen.

Unless Donald Trump becomes a business liability, critics can do little to remove name from skyline

Donald Trump was in Vancouver in June 2013 to announce his partnership with the Holborn Group for a 63-tower downtown building.

Long before Donald Trump revealed himself — in the eyes of some — to be a fascist, there were signs you might not want to tie your brand, let alone your 63-storey tower to the controversial developer.

Say one thing for The Donald, he rarely hides the real him; just watch The Apprentice.

Obnoxious, loud, brash, conceited and money-obsessed: that was the Trump who showed up in Vancouver in June 2013 to officially lend his name to the Holborn Group's new $360 million project.

"It's a beautiful city," he said. "And we're going to make it more beautiful."

'You cannot legislate who builds the building'

This was long before Trump floated the idea of banning Muslims from entering the U.S. in his bid to win the Republican nomination for president. 

And no one asked him his opinions about Mexicans.

But no one asked him much about anything of any depth at the crowing press conference to unveil plans for what promises, after all, to be one of the city's landmark buildings.

The tower's striking, twisted structure was designed by a man whose name Vancouverites really should revere: Arthur Erickson.

But architects don't move units, and at the end of the day, sales is what real estate is all about.

It's perhaps not surprising to see a grassroots movement of people who had no intention of buying a Trump condo or staying in a Trump hotel call for his removal from projects in Vancouver and Toronto, but don't hold your breath for change.

Even the mayor of Chicago lost a battle to stop the would-be Republican presidential nominee from plastering his name in giant letters on the side of one of the city's newest buildings.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel didn't like the giant letters spelling out Donald Trump's name, but lost a battle to remove them. (Stacy Thacker/Associated Press)

But as Pulitzer Prize winning Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin puts it, if building permits were issued on the basis of a developer's moral conduct, there would be some very windy cities indeed.

"Much as we might hate Trump's hate speech and be disgusted by it and be saddened by the reception that it's getting, it's simply not legal to tell him he can't put his name on a building or be involved in a real estate deal," Kamin says.

"You can legislate height, you can legislate setbacks, you can legislate materials: but you cannot legislate who builds the building."

'This is not what Vancouver stands for'

That's essentially the message Vancouver city councilor Kerry Jang says he got from his staff in relation to the Trump Tower petition: The city can't intervene in a private agreement between the developer and the aspiring politician.

But individuals can make choices, he says. And the success of the Trump brand lives or dies with consumers.

"If it was my building personally, I would just say 'I don't care if I lose $10-million. It's my fundamental value that's here, this is not what Vancouver stands for,'" he says.

"I think people will just generally walk with their feet anyway. I certainly won't set foot in it, if it stays that way."

As with Vancouver's twisted tower, Kamin says the style of Trump's Chicago building isn't the issue: It's the fact he decided to turn it into a giant Trump logo. Kamin describes the sign as "urban acne."

But ultimately, as the Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart pointed out, that's the risk of doing business with Donald Trump. 

Donald Trump was also criticized for questioning U.S. President Barack Obama's birthplace and religion. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

"Chicago, I think this is on you," Stewart said. "Did you not think Donald Trump was going to put his name on the building you let him build? It's what he does!"

Like causing controversy.

Long before the Vancouver Trump Tower deal was announced, the developer was questioning American President Barack Obama's religion and birthplace.

Those comments, aimed at the so-called 'birther movement', drew from the same well of hatred and ignorance as Trump's call to have Muslims barred from entering the U.S.

But he was still welcomed to Vancouver.

Trump the business vs Trump the man

It's not like Trump would be a difficult brand to boycott, given how many products bear his name, selling just about every aspect of his existence, from clothing to cologne.

The head of the Holborn Group was in transit Tuesday, unable to react to a growing firestorm. 

But a spokesperson for Toronto's Trump Tower says the Trump organization operates the hotel, but doesn't own the building. And his opinions don't reflect the company's point of view.

That's similar to the line drawn by Trump's Middle Eastern partners in a golf course based outside Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

It remains to be seen if the consumers who make a difference to both Trump the business and Trump the man will "walk with their feet" as Jang advises.

But it's worth considering the designer of his UAE golf course: once-disgraced sports star Tiger Woods.

Big-name celebrities, it seems, are hard to fire.

About the Author

Jason Proctor


Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.


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