In New York, the culture wars aren’t over abortion and gay marriage—we are far too sophisticated to disagree about those sorts of issues!—but over 46-story condo-hotels in SoHo.
Specifically, the one that was officially unveiled to reporters Wednesday at a heavily guarded and extremely lavish press conference (picture red carpets; chandeliers large enough for any room at Versailles; gold-plated utensils; and a peculiarly lissome black-clad catering staff at a construction site), while a crowd of earnest, sandal-wearing demonstrators across the street waved hand-lettered signs bearing such slogans as, “Value of Land: Millions. Defending our Neighborhoods: Priceless” and “Zoning Laws Trump Trump.”
The Trump SoHo Hotel Condominium, slated for completion in the spring of 2009, would be the tallest building between the financial district and the Empire State Building. Part condo, part luxury hotel, the glassy tower with panoramic city views will undoubtedly be opulent—some might even say garishly so (with cause: the top floor will house a members-only club called “SoHi”).
It’s no surprise that the building has detractors among the NPR crowd, people for whom a genuine concern for historic preservation coalesces with an equally genuine distaste for unabashed materialism (a.k.a., the cornerstone of our capitalist economy). What was particularly impressive about the 50 or so protesters who showed up yesterday was their diversity—that is, their chronological, not ethnic or racial, diversity. Twenty-somethings in nerd glasses—the This American Life crowd—waved their placards next to gray-haired devotees of Isaiah Sheffer.
Culturally, the protesters and the Trump crowd have about as much in common with one another as Southern Baptists do with herstory-loving nudists.
But its detractors can’t derail Donald Trump’s building by arguing that it’s in bad taste—at least not without sneaking in a law against that which doesn’t run into thorny First Amendment issues. What they do have, however, are zoning regulations. The building, located on Spring Street, between Varick and Sixth Avenue, is technically in a manufacturing district, which means residential buildings are forbidden.
The catch is that transient hotels—like S.R.O.’s—are permitted.
Now, no one would call the Trump SoHo an S.R.O. (A polished, miniskirt-clad Ivanka Trump told reporters at the press conference that prices on the time-share residences will begin at $3,000 a square foot.) But because the units will not include kitchens and because owners—technically called “time-sharers”—will not be allowed to move their own furniture into the units, the city gave the project the go-ahead.
In other words: Pay no heed to its name; technically it’s not a condo building.
No wonder the protesters feel that Trump and Co. have railroaded the city into approving a project that clearly violates the spirit of the zoning regulations.
To be fair, though, the protesters don’t entirely have the moral high ground. One can be fairly sure that the very same people who want the law enforced to the letter in this instance screamed just as loudly when the federal government began enforcing pre-existing immigration laws after 9/11.
As usual, the law is being used by each side as a cudgel, a means of getting what it already wanted, and so those who don’t want to see this building go up are newly gung-ho about zoning regulations that, in other contexts, almost everyone agrees are antiquated.
Also, as usual, the side with the most money appears to have won the day, a feat for which no apologies were made at the unveiling.
“Thanks to the protesters outside for helping to make this job so successful,” said Mr. Trump with a smirk. “We’ve already gotten more than 3,200 applications.”
Looks like the building’s opponents are going to have to try their luck stopping the next big-budget luxury project.