Atlantic City and the titan of finance who invested in some of its casino hotels, Carl Icahn, have fought for years over demolishing the former Trump Plaza. In the end, Icahn put that aside and ensured city children will get the bonus from the demolition that the city tried to conjure.
The hotel tower has been empty since 2014. IEP Plaza, part of the real estate unit of Icahn’s diversified holding company, Icahn Enterprises, acquired the Plaza when Icahn purchased the assets of bankrupt Trump Entertainment Resorts.
In 2017, then-Mayor Don Guardian announced a plan with Icahn to demolish the tower. Just one problem — the investor wanted to use $5.6 million of the Plaza’s leftover Investment Alternative Tax payments to help cover the $13.2 million cost of the demolition.
Guardian rejected that not only as mayor, but voted with the majority on the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority against the IAT use. Icahn foe Senate President Steve Sweeney added his opposition a week later.
A two-year standoff followed, with the tower still standing empty, deteriorating and becoming a worsening eyesore at an entrance to the resort.
Then last March, Atlantic City sued IEP Plaza to force it to raze the tower. Icahn attorneys said they already had a plan to bring down the Plaza even though it posed no real risk to the public, and called the lawsuit a waste of time and money. The court was glad to hear that — and ordered IEP Plaza to present the demolition plan by May.
Then there was one more twist in the long-running dispute. In mid-December, Mayor Marty Small Sr. said the city would auction the right to push the button to bring down the former Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino sometime in February.
Bidding in the online auction quickly ramped up. Attempts were made (apparently in vain) to win the button push for famous foes of President Donald Trump such as Hillary Clinton and Stormy Daniels. As of last week, bidding had topped out at $175,000.
The hotel tower hasn’t been connected to Trump for years, but as one of his former casino properties, it makes an effective lightning rod for presidential partisans and a possible subject of national publicity.
Small designated the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City to get the money raised for the right to be the person who brought down the Plaza.
This looked like it might be an exercise in Atlantic City’s world-class entertainment and showmanship skills for a worthy cause. Just one problem — the city never was authorized to have someone set off the Plaza implosion. “From the beginning, we thought the auction and any other related spectacle presented a safety risk, and we were always clear we did not want to participate in any way,” an Icahn spokesman said Monday.
That makes sense since tower demolitions are dangerous and require precise control and oversight. But what followed was a bit surprising.
Icahn told Small he would donate the $175,000 to the Boys & Girls Club. After years of the city, state and Icahn engaging in tough business and politics, the billionaire financier ensured the Plaza finale wouldn’t disappoint the kids of the city.
We hope this happy ending opens the way for redevelopment of the Plaza site for the benefit of all.