Come January, Trump Tower in Manhattan will act as “White House North,”
as The New York Times refers to it.
Beyond the skyscraper’s shops, private condos, and offices, there are a few hidden spaces that anyone can access — with a catch.
In the late 1970s, Donald Trump set out to build his flagship, 58-story tower in midtown Manhattan. But there was a hitch: the city has mandates for how tall skyscrapers can be in certain areas, and he wanted to go taller.
So Trump struck a deal with New York. The city would allow him to add 20 floors to Trump Tower in exchange for building and maintaining two atriums, restrooms, two gardens, and benches that the public could use.
These areas are privately owned public spaces (POPS), a common urban phenomenon where developers receive special permissions to construct private buildings if they build and maintain public areas within them. POPS are frequently found in New York City because they allow developers to build bigger in high-density areas (across NYC, there are more than 500 POPS in 320 buildings).
Over the last three decades, the Trump Tower POPS agreement has not been entirely upheld, resulting in fines from the city of New York.
Shortly after the tower was completed in 1983, the aforementioned benches were covered with planters so no one could sit on them. According to The New York Times, Trump defended this at the time to the Department of City Planning, citing troubles with “drug addicts, vagrants, et cetera.”
The POPS within Trump Tower are still public today, but as Crains New York notes, they are not easy to reach. When writer Nick Turse tried to go to the skyscraper’s public garden this past spring, it was closed, and security guards stood at the elevators leading up to it.
The building’s entrance on Fifth Avenue doesn’t mention any of the POPS, though it features a directory to the Trump Bar, Trump Grill, Trump Café, Trump Ice Cream Parlor, and Trump Store.
Business Insider reporter Kate Taylor also went to Trump Tower in late October, and says one of the atriums was closed to the public.
The open fifth-floor atrium includes a few chairs and tables, four small trees in pots (though one was dead when she visited), and a window overlooking the street.
In addition, the public stone bench was mysteriously removed from the atrium some time in the early spring, according to The Atlantic. A metal one bolted to the floor reappeared in July after Trump Tower Commercial LLC (the company that owns the building) was fined $10,000.
These moves have garnered controversy because Trump Tower essentially took advantage of the POPS agreement that allowed it to be built — without making the space easily accessible to the rest of New York.
Now that Trump is the President-elect, the Tower’s front doors — let alone its public spaces — are even more difficult to access, judging by the secret service and nonstop traffic outside.