It appears Donald Trump has changed things up in the Board Room. Eight years after unleashing his apprentices at the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to seize three properties by eminent domain for his privately owned limousine staging area and parking lot, he’s back at the negotiating table—exactly where he should have been all along. Only this time, he’s doing the right thing.
In 1997, looking to expand Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza, The Donald attempted to take the home of an elderly widow, a mom-and-pop Italian restaurant and a cash-for-gold store, all by eminent domain. City officials even went as far as telling restaurant owner Clare Sabatini that she would be handcuffed and taken out of her establishment if she refused to sell her property.
“This is America! How can they put me out of business? How could they just take my deed from me?” asked Vincent Sabatini, remembering this battle he fought just to keep what was already rightfully his own.
With the help of the Institute for Justice, the Sabatinis joined the other property owners in launching a challenge against seemingly insurmountable odds: ordinary citizens taking on a billionaire teaming up with Atlantic City.
“We should offer a reasonable price for those properties. But it’s their property. They own it and have a right to say no.”
—James B. Perry, President of Trump Entertainment
That’s exactly the battle they fought and won. Garnering widespread support in the court of public opinion, the property owners ultimately triumphed in their legal opposition to eminent domain for private development. In 1998, a Superior Court judge dismissed the condemnation actions, saying that Trump would be the primary beneficiary of the property taking, not the public. Put simply, Trump had two options: negotiate a voluntary sale without the threat of eminent domain or walk away from that particular plot of land.
In November 2005, eight years later, with the tide of eminent domain changing nationwide, Donald Trump once again sought the three properties for an undisclosed development plan. Trump Entertainment emerged from its Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced its intention to purchase land for its plans to modernize its three casinos. This time, he went about it the legal way—through voluntary negotiation, not government force.
Having recently reached a deal with the Sabatinis, who are now ready to retire, Trump purchased their Italian restaurant for an unnamed price. Clare Sabatini, 73, said, “The time is right. It’s right for us, and it’s right for Mr. Trump. We’re happy and they’re happy.” Trump is currently in the process of negotiating with the two remaining landowners.
In the wake of Kelo v. City of New London, developers nationwide have attempted to muscle their way into neighborhoods for their private commercial projects. Much like Atlantic City attempted in the late 1990s, city officials throughout America attempt to use eminent domain for private use, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates to this type of abuse in its June 2005 ruling. That’s why the Castle Coalition is working every day to reform the laws governing eminent domain at all levels of government.
For the time being, it seems that Trump has learned his lesson—a message that all developers would benefit from following.
James B. Perry, President of Trump Entertainment, said it best: “We should offer a reasonable price for those properties. But it’s their property. They own it and have a right to say no.”
The Castle Coalition could not agree more.