No one in the world represents high-profile success more than Donald Trump. Or high-profile comebacks. Or high-profile reinvention. Trump’s profile has always been—and likely always will be—sky-high. As he is a prolific creator of tabloid chatter with an unsurpassed facility for irresistible quotes, it is sometimes forgotten that Donald Trump, underneath all the bluster and the persona, is one of the most important developers this city has ever known.
Building upon a foundation laid by his father, Donald Trump has pulled off deal after deal that many savvy observers deemed impossible. Time and again, Mr. Trump displayed the tenacity—admirers call it “confidence” while haters call it “ego”—that it takes to change a city that can be shockingly resistant and defeatist about its prospects. These qualities became Mr. Trump’s trademark. His admirers laud them and his detractors mock them, but no one can deny that they’ve transformed the only city in the world that could have birthed such an outsized personality.
Donald Trump has owned some of the city’s best buildings—the Plaza, the GM building and the land under the Empire State Building. Today he owns some of the most important buildings in the city, including 40 Wall Street and Trump Tower, as well as two of the most luxurious hotels in the city, the Trump International and Trump Soho, both of which are not only profitable major properties, but also display the vision of investing in areas long before they were booming. There are more than a dozen buildings in the city that bear his name. These real estate achievements stand outside the celebrity that has formed around some of Mr. Trump’s other well-known pursuits (which are staggering in their diversity, from best-selling books to hosting an outrageously successful television show that spawned a national catchphrase, to less successful pursuits in professional sports, airline ownership and wrestling).
It is no secret that this publication cannot take an unbiased view. (The Observer’s publisher, Jared Kushner, is married to Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.) But consider the following three deals that changed New York City and ask if any other developer would have had the moxie—the raw stamina—to pull them off. One: Trump Place on the Upper West Side transformed an abandoned, unsafe former freight yard—kept fallow for years by professional NIMBYists who opposed every plan by a succession of developers—into a gleaming collection of first-class properties fronted by a 21-acre public park on the water. Two: At a time when a can’t-do malaise gripped the city, Mr. Trump’s plan to luxe up the Commodore Hotel adjacent to Grand Central reinvigorated and encouraged others to invest in an area of NYC that is now its heart. (Mr. Trump renovated the façade of Grand Central Terminal when he was building the Grand Hyatt in what used to be the Commodore.) Three: When the city couldn’t get out of its own way to build an ice rink in Central Park, he built it and still manages it today, a small but powerful reminder of a time in New York’s recent past when even the simplest ambitions were shackled by bureaucracy and surrenderism.
Each of these represents an act of sheer will. When others said “impossible,” Mr. Trump fought like hell to get things done, using his energy, his lawyers, his sharp tongue and, yes, his celebrity to bulldoze (literally) past the somnolent forces that resist progress. Today, with ubiquitous appearances on television—on behalf of Macy’s, Oreos and others, but above all on behalf of the Trump brand—and with political candidates all but required to make a pilgrimage for The Donald’s blessing, Mr. Trump is perhaps better known for his celebrity than for his achievements in real estate. But here in New York, we realize that beneath all the bluster is a developer who literally changed the shape of this city and paved the way for others to do the same. That’s the definition of influence.
Donald Trump is known, loved, hated, feared by everyone who matters in New York City. And perhaps alone among that small number, he is also known, loved, hated and feared by every tourist who walks down Fifth Avenue—and they all take pictures in front of Trump Tower.