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Sat 5 Jul 2008 04:00 AM

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Don of Dubai

Has Donald Trump bitten off more than he can chew with his ambitious plans for Dubai? He doesn't think so.

Assistant editor Jamie Stewart discovers that Donald Trump in the flesh is pretty much the Donald Trump we see on television. But has The Don bitten off more than he can chew with his ambitious plans for Dubai? Naturally, he doesn't think so.

Watch out GCC. Donald Trump means business, and the man who personifies Western capitalism more than any other is not to be taken lightly.

The property magnate they call "The Don" was busy entertaining Construction Week alongside the world's media in New York City last week, at the launch of the Trump International Hotel and Tower Dubai.

What they are doing in Dubai is amazing and everybody is talking about it.

The 62-storey building, to be built in partnership with Dubai-based master developer Nakheel, will be raised on the central trunk of Dubai's iconic Palm Jumeirah.

Trump in the flesh is the very same Trump we know from our TV screens: the man who claims his wife calls him "the greatest star in the world" because "she is highly intelligent," is sharp both in dress and tongue, animated and, above all, to the point. Let's face it; you do not become the world's best known tycoon by wasting time.

The Trump Organization, a US property development giant, long ago conquered North America, attaining a staggering portfolio of property spread across New York, Chicago and Las Vegas, with developments under construction in Toronto, New Orleans, Florida and beyond.

Globally, the Trump brand has spread its expansive wings over the past five years, with developments planned for Central America, the Dominican Republic and Scotland. As the firm prepares to roll into the Middle East, the pertinent questions are: Why Dubai, and why now?

"As partners, Nakheel are a great company to work with, really spectacular people," says Trump. "That was very important because we have many opportunities in the Middle East and elsewhere. Second of all, when I saw the Palm and I saw the site that Nakheel were talking about, it was instantaneous. It was a very easy decision."

And the timing? "The opportunity presented itself, and based on the response, our timing has been very good. Manhattan is doing great but most of this country isn't doing so well in terms of many things."

Referring to the early demand for space within the tower, Trump says: "It really was the right time and I'm glad we waited because I really don't think we could have done so well two years ago, based on the kind of numbers we are seeing."

Pre-sales of some properties in the tower have seen figures reach over US $30,000 per m2. Trump puts this in perspective.

"We get around (US $50,000 per m2) in Park Avenue, New York City, and the building has been there a long time. We're getting over ($30,000 per m2) in Dubai, and we're just starting. We think people are going to be very happy if they purchase soon."

Significantly, the tower marks the Trump Organization's first Middle Eastern venture. The launch is nothing less than a defining moment in the evolution of the Middle East construction industry.

Looking east

Trump makes a telling point during his monologue: Most of the US "isn't doing so well in terms of many things."

The coming of the Trump Organization into the Middle East is the most striking indication yet of a global pendulum swing that is occurring in the property market. As the market begins to stall and stagnate in the west, the GCC area is laughing all the way to the bank as investors turn their attention eastwards.

The interest that has been generated among both investors and the general public by the Trump development is no act of serendipity on Trump's part. Things do not simply happen to the sharp suited tycoon, who knows his market like he knows his wardrobe; intimately.

"If you look at what's happening in Dubai, it's the envy of the world. I have a club in Florida called the Mar-a-Lago. We have many rich members from many parts of the world, and even before I did this deal they were saying "we're investing in Dubai.""They have nothing to do with Dubai but they have bought apartments -- one man bought four or five apartments -- and these are very substantial people. What they are doing in Dubai is amazing and everybody is talking about it very positively.

"We have people letting in some of my buildings from all over the world. We have the richest people from India, the richest people from China. Many of these people follow me. If I build a building, no matter where it is, they buy an apartment. It's turned out to be a great investment for them."

Nakheel CEO Chris O'Donnell is no doubt unfamiliar with being the second-most important man at the conference table, but has much to add, particularly on a regional level. O'Donnell is at the centre of the Dubai construction boom, and has faith in the city he is helping to build.

We have the richest people. If I build a building, no matter where it is, they buy.

"Dubai is going to be the commercial hub of the Middle East. It's going to have a population of about 4 million people by 2020. Dubai is very much on the fast track to cement its place in the Middle East as the commercial hub and tourist hub."

Trump also explains that planning regulations have played a part in his decision to expand overseas.

"Everything is very difficult in New York, and it's hard to get approval. If you drop a pebble into the ocean you suffer serious consequences, while in Dubai, they're building an island in the ocean the likes of which nobody has ever seen. It's really spectacular. It's a great engineering feat.

"If you want to build something architecturally great in New York, it's very hard to do. We have zoning and much of the zoning is contextual. If you have a building that's a certain size you have to build the same size building next to it.

So if an architect came in with a plan such as we have for Dubai, with some really great architecture, you couldn't do it in New York."

Security risk

Nothing could be more symbolic of US financial muscle than a gleaming tower bearing the name of "Trump," rising spectacularly out of the centre of the Palm Jumeirah.

Yet the Middle East is a sensitive region with regards to American investment, and Dubai is a short flight from countries which may not view the coming of the Trump Organization in as positive a light as Nakheel obviously does.

However, Trump explains: "When you talk about the greatest risk -- there's a risk to everything. There's a risk to doing something in Manhattan. There's a risk to doing things no matter where you go in the world.

"Who would have ever thought the World Trade Center could have happened on September 11th? The world changes, and there's always a risk but I feel Dubai is very solid.

"There are people coming in and spending tens of billions of dollars in Dubai. The world has a big stake in Dubai because of all the investment that's been made and that makes it more solid in my opinion than most places."

So, The Don on Dubai: Solid, spectacular, land of "many opportunities" no less. The land of opportunity? Isn't that what they used to call the US?

"I think a lot of Americans agree with what they're doing in Dubai and I think they respect it and they see a country growing so rapidly and so well. There's great respect for that."

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