Sunday, September 01, 2002

Complex was troubled from beginning

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Almost from the beginning, the Bond Hill apartment complex now known as Huntington Meadows was unmanageable - at least to the out-of-town owners who have held the complex for half a century.

        Completed in 1953 by New York developer Jonathan Woodner, the $10 million Swifton Village was immediately plagued by high vacancy rates, with about half of its 1,154 units occupied.

        By 1962, the owners were unable to make mortgage payments, and the New York State Employees Retirement System, which had invested a one-fifth share of the property, foreclosed. The Federal Housing Administration took over control.

        That's when New York developer Fred Trump flew into town, plunked down $5.7 million at a sheriff's sale and bought the property. He sent his son, 25-year-old business school whiz Donald Trump, to Cincinnati to manage the property.

        The elder Mr. Trump was the only bidder on the property, and that made his bankers nervous.

        He told the Cincinnati Post Times-Star in 1964 that when he told his mother of the purchase, she replied, “That's the worst news I've heard all day.”

        But the Trump family propped up the struggling complex.

        “When they bought this place from the government, there were 400 units rented and 800 vacant. In less than two years, there wasn't a vacancy,” longtime maintenance man Roy Knight recalled in 1990.

        He said Donald Trump “wasn't skilled,” but often flew in for a few days at a time to help with landscaping and other menial duties around the complex.

        Bond Hill was a predominantly white neighborhood as late as 1970, and so was Huntington Meadows.

        In 1969, a black stock clerk at General Electric Aircraft Engines applied for an apartment and was told there were no vacancies. A white couple sent in by Housing Opportunities Made Equal did find a vacancy, and the stock clerk sued and won.

        The Trumps put $500,000 into the property and sold it for $6.75 million in 1972. Donald Trump boasted in his 1987 memoir, The Art of the Deal, that Swifton Village was his first multimillion-dollar deal. But Gwenda Blair, author of The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire, wrote that Mr. Trump's account was loaded with “energetic exaggerations” - it was his father, and not Donald, who was the force behind the Swifton Village deal.

        In 1982, the complex was sold for $11.3 million to Hastings Bankshares of Indianapolis and was renamed Hillcrest Gardens. And though it was appraised in 1990 for more than $23 million, it never reached that potential value.

        With the complex clearly struggling in 1996, a Chicago developer approached the city with a plan to convert the complex into a housing cooperative. That plan was called off when Hastings, eager to unload the property, turned to the P.M. Group of Michigan instead.


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