Will Trump say: `You're higher'?
By Blair Kamin
Tribune architecture critic
Published May 27, 2004
Donald Trump has a new choice to make, but it's not Bill versus Kwame.
It's whether his ego or his pragmatic side determines the official height of his planned Chicago skyscraper, the one that got so much attention on "The Apprentice."
At stake is whether the reality TV star and developer's Trump International Hotel and Tower will be (gee whiz!) the nation's second tallest building or (ho-hum) Chicago's fourth tallest building after Sears Tower, the Aon Center and the John Hancock Center.
It all may boil down to how Trump and his architects play the arcane rules that determine a building's official height.
A month after picking Chicago's Bill Rancic over Wall Streeter Kwame Jackson to be the nominal supervisor of the Chicago project on "The Apprentice," Trump called the Tribune last Friday to chat about (a.k.a. beat the publicity drums for) the proposed 90-story hotel and condo tower, which still requires final approval from City Hall.
Snippets from the conversation:
Timing: Trump wants to begin tearing down the seven-story Chicago Sun-Times building, which occupies the site of the proposed tower, this fall. "We're getting ready to start as soon as the Sun-Times moves out," he said. The demolition may begin in September or October.
Financing: Trump said he has five banks bidding on the project, adding, with typical bravado, "It's easy for me to get financing." He didn't name any of the banks, adding he would decide within 60 days which bank to use.
Casino troubles: Trump denied that the financial troubles at his three Atlantic City casino hotels would have any impact on the Chicago project. "That's a totally separate company," he snapped. "That's less than 2 percent of my net worth."
Sales at the Chicago project: Trump said he had sold more than $500 million worth of apartments. "That's probably 60 percent of the building has been sold already," he said. The tower's first tenants are supposed to move in in 2007.
Materials: Trump said he is considering two materials for the structural framework of the tower, steel and concrete. The advantage of steel, he added, is that it can be constructed more quickly than concrete. But concrete, which typically requires less height between floors, would make the building about 25 feet shorter than originally planned. When the design was unveiled in 2002, it was 1,125 feet tall, which would have made it the city's fourth tallest building -- two feet shorter than the 1,127-foot Hancock Center and 11 feet shorter than the 1,136-foot Aon Center.
The slim margin reflected post-Sept. 11, 2001, nervousness about tall buildings being terrorist targets and it represented a big shift for Trump, who had planned to erect the world's tallest building here.
"I don't want to be the tallest," Trump reiterated Friday. "Before Sept. 11, I wanted to be the tallest."
"I think the fourth tallest sounds good to me."
But a close look at the latest drawings of his tower, by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill of Chicago, reveals that the developer has plenty of wiggle room. The reason: The off-center spire of the tower, which Smith adorned with communications dishes in 2002, no longer is pictured with the dishes.
When the dishes were present, the spire was, technically, a broadcast antenna. Broadcast antennas do not count in official height measurements of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the Chicago-based group that is the arbiter of such matters. Ornamental spires do count.
Without the dishes, the spire officially could be ruled part of the building's height, meaning that Trump's tower would "grow" to about 1,300 feet. That would make it taller than the 1,250-foot Empire State Building, now the nation's second tallest building, and second only to 1,450-foot Sears Tower in the U.S.
Smith acknowledged Tuesday that the door remains open for Trump to count the spire as part of the building's height.
"It's meant to be a formal architectural element," he said.
Whatever Trump chooses, there's reason to cheer Smith's latest refinements to the tower's summit: They make the top appear less stumplike than when Trump released drawings last fall. The new version, which shows the spire popping up like a waterjet from a rounded, Buck Rogers base, has just the right hint of skyline exuberance. It handsomely culminates the upward drive of the curving walls on the tower's northern side.
Still, from some angles, this remains a very broad building and that underscores the importance of Trump keeping his promise to pay for premium-quality exterior walls. They would be the equivalent of a well-cut tuxedo that makes a chunky fellow look svelte.
Not to worry, replies "The Donald," with a trademark blast of hype: "The curtain wall's gonna be brilliant. It'll be one of the finest buildings in America."