A once valuable building that could have been part of the Trump Plaza Casino is now crumbling.
Everyone living around Atlantic City knows the property at 127 South Columbia Place. Eight years ago, Donald Trump offered to buy it for almost $2 million. He had plans to extend his Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, but the owner said no.
Now the property is going up for auction and the reserve price – which is the lowest the seller is willing to accept – $199,000. Brokers say it might go for more, but that’s still a tenth of the amount he could have sold it for eight years ago, when Atlantic City’s casino industry was at its peak.
The unsellable home
Casinos closing in Atlantic City:
• Trump Plaza
But none of the seven-figure offers received over the years were enough to convince Vera Coking to leave the summertime retreat she and her husband had bought for $20,000 back in 1961.
Ms. Coking is now 91, living in a retirement home in the San Francisco Bay Area, close to her grandson Ed Casey. “One of the reasons my grandmother never wanted to sell is she just never wanted to move,” he told reporters in a telephone interview.
Now, with Atlantic City revenues soaring and more casinos closing, the owner of the building may just have lost her shot at a big payout. And as if the price drop on her property wasn’t enough, the building is also in pretty bad shape.
Casey has been trying to sell it since she moved out, in 2010. He initially put it on the market for $5 million. The bold move didn’t get him too far though, obviously.
Waiting for the “real offer”
Vera Coking drew a lot of attention to herself when she refused Donald Trump’s initial offer. Even the city’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority got involved in 1996 and tried to take it for “public use”, after assessing its value at $251,000. They never succeeded though, as Ms. Coking prevailed in State Supreme Court.
Even after that she continued to refuse every offer, as tempting as selling the place might have been. Her grandson says she was not completely opposed to selling the place, but believed no one could ever match the price she was willing to let it go for.
At one point, gambling news wrote Trump offered as much as $4 million, plus a room for life at any of his properties. But Casey believes that’s an exaggeration and says the highest offer he recalls was $1.9 million.
“He never made her a real offer. He just tried to steal it,” he added.
Atlantic City crashing
But now Atlantic City isn’t doing so well anymore. The former gambling Mecca is facing some serious competition from neighboring states, which are also taking advantage of American gambling laws to make some more tax revenue by legalizing casinos.
In addition, players can also access online gambling sites in the US state of New Jersey, so land-based venues are on a downward trend. Three Atlantic City casinos have already announced that they will be closing by the end of this summer and more than a thousand people will be out of work.
The once successful Trump Plaza isn’t doing too well either. The wallpaper is peeling, the windows are dirty and most of the seats at the casino tables are empty. There’s a pretty good chance the Trump Plaza could become the fourth casino to close and the staff knows it.
Under these circumstances, chances that Ms. Coking’s property will be sold at a seven-figure price are practically non-existent. The starting price at the auction is already low, but the owner’s broker, Nate Chait, believe the prime location of the property will help him get a good price.
Chait listed the property last year for $995,000 and he did receive a few offers, but none of them high enough to please the owner. “We’re in the heart of the city, and now’s the time to buy. Atlantic City’s always come back around.”
Oren Klein, a managing partner at AuctionAdvisors, said: “It’s mostly pawnshops, cash-for-gold places, a bar, a couple of liquor stores. We did get a call from some Chinese investors, and one guy wants to do a pharmacy.”
Now local business owners say Ms. Coking got greedy, instead of just accepting Trump’s offer. But her grandson believes otherwise: “I don’t think she has any remorse. There were never any offers she thought were reasonable. A few million dollars may sound like a lot, but it’s not for the place she loved.”