Strictly Beau Monde

By Sydney H. Schanberg

Originally published in the New York Times, December 18, 1982

The state’s highest court scolded the city government this week for having denied a tax abatement to the glass and steel creation of Donald Trump, master builder — the structure that he calls, interchangeably, the Trump Tower or ”the world’s most talked about address.”

The Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the city had gone beyond the law and used arbitrary reasons in deciding that young Trump’s 68-story edifice at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street did not qualify for having $20 million written off its tax bill. The seven judges told the Koch administration to go back and think it over and do the right thing for ”the world’s most talked about address.”

Sad to report, however, the city is behaving mean-spiritedly and is now looking for new ways to thwart the great builder and hold on to the tax money for the support of patently less important addresses — such as the Men’s Shelter and Bellevue Hospital.

Don’t the Koch people have any sense of gratitude for the uplift this visionary is giving our town? Don’t they realize that we will all be basking in the renascent glow from the shiny people who are buying the 263 condominiums in the Trump Tower at prices ranging from an embarrassing $500,000 for the economy one-bedroom unit up to $10 million for the premiere penthouse triplex in the stars?

I think it’s best to let the building’s prospectus and purring brochures speak for themselves: ”Imagine a tall bronze tower of glass. Imagine life within such a tower. Elegant. Sophisticated. Strictly beau monde. ”It’s been fifty years at least since people could actually live at this address. They were Astors. And the Whitneys lived just around the corner. And the Vanderbilts across the street.

”You approach the residential entrance — an entrance totally inaccessible to the public — and your staff awaits your arrival. Your concierge gives you your messages. And you pass through the lobby.

”Quickly, quietly, the elevator takes you to your floor and your elevator man sees you home. ”You turn the key and wait a moment before clicking on the light. ”A quiet moment to take in the view – wall-to-wall, floor-toceiling – New York at dusk. The sky is pink and gray. Thousands of tiny lights are snaking their way through Central Park. Bridges are becoming jeweled necklaces. ”Your diamond in the sky. It seems a fantasy. And you are home.

”Maid service, valet, laundering and dry cleaning, stenographers, interpreters, multilingual secretaries, Telex and other communications equipment, hairdressers, masseuses, limousines, helicopters, conference rooms — all at your service with a phone call to your concierge.

”If you can think of any amenity, any extravagance or nicety of life, any service we haven’t mentioned, then it probably hasn’t been invented yet.”

And can you believe it? The Mayor is trying to make life difficult for these people. Trying to cast a pall over their amenities. Trying to take away $20 million of their extravagances.

What kind of grinch would want to hassle that anonymous wage-earner who has purchased Triplex N for $10 million? Perched on the top three floors, Triplex N has (and this is but a partial list): ”five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, skylit garden/playroom, roof terrace, (interior) elevator serving all floors of the unit … unlike anything you’ve ever seen … wraparound views of Manhattan … sculptured staircases … sumptuous tubs … his and her bathing suites … worthy only of the world’s most talked about address.”

City Hall is trying to argue that the 1971 state law authorizing tax abatements for new residential construction was designed to stimulate the creation of low- and middle-income housing, not units that are ”unlike anything you’ve ever seen.” (The median rent in other buildings currently receiving such write-offs from the city is $465 a month. The ”carrying charge” alone on Triplex N is about $3,400 a month.) The court said there was nothing in the statute’s language that makes such a distinction.

The court is right — if we start discriminating against the rich, then who’ll be next? Donald Trump couldn’t agree more. He took all the risks, after all. He raised the $200 million to build the tower. Is he now to be penalized because the condominiums on the top 38 floors — which are in such sumptuous demand that he’s raised the prices four times since the sales office opened a year ago — will bring him $300 million (not to mention the revenue from the 18 retail and commercial floors)? What’s wrong with a reasonable profit?

What would the city do with young Trump’s $20 million, anyway? They’d just spend it on more cops and sanitation workers and subway repairmen. Who’s going to need cops and street sweepers and subway mechanics if young Trump keeps getting tax abatements and keeps building these swell apartments? Pretty soon, there’ll be so much housing that we’ll all be able to live strictly beau monde.

Now do you realize how important this issue is? Don’t drag your feet any longer — write to the Mayor immediately and tell him to lay off Donald Trump.

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