Playing the Trump Card
Written by Rosanna Caira   

TRUMPThe Trump International Hotel & Tower arrives in Toronto, inspiring champagne wishes and caviar dreams

When Talon International Development, owners of Toronto’s Trump International Hotel & Tower, purchased the parcel of land at the epicentre of Canada’s financial district in 2001, they didn’t know what type of hotel they wanted to build. But, given the coveted real estate, it was clear it would become a landmark destination.

Fast forward a decade, and the pricey footprint at Bay and Adelaide has spawned an elegant and sophisticated hotel. After several delays, the property opened in January in what is fast becoming a crowded luxury segment; it brings with it a chic vibe and upscale amenities as well as a level of personalized service the owners claim is unparalleled in Canada.

Not surprisingly, the hotel’s well-heeled pedigree means expectations for the luxe property were heightened from the get-go. After all, the $500-million property flies the Trump flag, one of the most widely recognized and controversial names in the business world. The hotel owners, a partnership between husband-and-wife team Val and Inna Levitan, and Toronto billionaire Alex Shnaider, have spared no expense in creating the hallmark destination.

Still, there were a few bumps along the way, which Shnaider alluded to at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in mid-April. “When we launched our property is 2004, there was considerable skepticism regarding the demand for luxury properties such as ours in Toronto. Yet, we are not the types to back down in the face of critics,” he said determinedly. “Over the years Talon has weathered rumours, a harsh climate and global economic uncertainty; through it all we never lost sight of our goal,” added the mogul, who moved to Toronto from St. Petersburg, Russia at the age of 13.

The brainchild of Toronto-based Zeidler Partnership Architects, the mixed-use development marries a 261-room hotel on 19 levels, with 118 residences, ranging in price from $2.1 million to $35 million. Like all Trump hotels, the building’s architecture is dramatic, featuring a stone, steel and glass façade, crowned by an articulated spire. The building towers more than 900 feet above Toronto and, at 65 stories high, it’s Canada’s tallest residential building and the second-tallest structure in the city, adding drama to the city’s skyline.

Building the skyscraper on such a small parcel of land took a “lot of master engineering and master architecture,” says Inna Levitan, CEO and managing partner. But she beams with pride at the end result. “It’s not a formula, cookie-cutter hotel,” she adds.

Indeed, it’s anything but. From the moment guests arrive at the porte cochere, a sense of drama envelops them. “For us, it was about the experience from the moment you arrive,” explains the effusive Levitan. “We invested a great deal of time, effort and dollars into the public art so, upon your arrival, you’re greeted by [a scene of] beautiful people.” The expansive 500,000-tile wall mosaic was created by Canadian artist Stephen Andrews and plays with a textural pattern of porcelain, glass, stone and gold, depicting a stadium filled with a cheering crowd. It’s one of the few areas in the hotel where guests are treated to such a vibrant display of colour. “The entire concept behind the hotel is [based] on the black-and-white champagne-and-caviar colour theme, and we wanted the people to be the colour and the light of this property.”

Inside, the lobby was designed to feel residential, “more like a luxurious estate than a hotel,” says Mickael Damelincourt, the GM, who moved from the award-winning Trump Chicago two years ago to head the Toronto project. “It’s intimate but at the same time extremely stately and glamourous,” adds Levitan. Mouldings and 10-foot ceilings make the hotel feel spacious, while expansive floor-to-ceiling windows offer commanding views of the city, bringing the outside in. As home to a hotel and condos, the lobby demarcates that duality with two separate areas connected through the black-and-white colour scheme.

Guests checking in can’t help but notice an imposing three-dimensional cherry blossom branch strategically located behind the reception desk. Hand-fashioned from Czech crystals in hues of grey and aubergine; at night the blossoms are lit with LEDs against a black-glass background. Representative of spring, and a new beginning, the blossoms — a favourite of Levitan  — are a recurring motif throughout the property, evidenced in the artwork in the hotel bedrooms, the carpeting and even the ceilings. “My husband and I are both Russian immigrants, so to have an opportunity to bring a hotel like this into the city we live in is quite exciting,” adds the co-owner.

The front desk features an opening that allows staff to step out from behind the counter to greet guests. And, unlike other hotels, Trump staff doesn’t wear name tags. “That was Mickael’s idea,” Levitan says, referring to the GM. “As Mickael asked me, ‘When guests come to your house, do you wear a name tag?’” Having staff come out from behind the desk allows them to create a relationship with the guest.

The Trump Toronto experience is about being different. “We have never tried to do what the competition has done,” explains Damelincourt, a native of France. “Everything you see is unique — from a product, architecture and design standpoint as well as from a service standpoint.” The hotel employs 260 staff, offering a high staff-to-guest ratio, not surprising given its high level of personalized service.

Given the high-end luxe product and its location, Trump was the natural management choice. “We felt it was a brand we could affiliate with,” explains Levitan. “They stand out on a service level. I don’t believe there’s a better brand,” she says emphatically. “They understand luxury. [There’s] a real family behind the name. It’s not a bunch of corporate people who put together an agenda, give you a manual and say run it.” The admiration is mutual. At the hotel’s official opening in April, Donald Trump was laudatory in his praise of Talon. “About eight years ago I began this voyage and it turned out to be a beautiful voyage because the end result is something, the likes of which, not only throughout Canada, but worldwide, hasn’t been done. It’s a spectacular building and [what] Inna, Alex and Val, have done is incredible,” he said.

Of the hotel’s 261 rooms, 127 are suites. “To appeal to the high-end clientele, you want to have a very good portion of the rooms as suites,” explains Levitan. And, adds Damelincourt, there is no VIP floor. “All guests are VIPs,” he emphasizes.

Award-winning Toronto designers II by IV have conveyed a sense of glamour throughout the hotel’s public spaces and guestrooms. “This hotel represents an international opportunity to set a presence in the city, to open the market for what Toronto really stands for,” says Dan Menchions, partner of II by IV. “When we were given this opportunity to design the hotel, we said let’s bring back classic design and give it a modern feel.”

It’s hard to escape the feeling of luxury — whether guests stay in a 550-square-foot studio, starting at $495, or a one or two-bedroom 750-square-foot suite, priced at $695. Stand-ard amenities include Trump Home mattress by Serta, white-on-white Italian Bellino linens, a tufted-leather headboard with matching leather or wood side tables. All guestrooms feature high-end amenities such as Nespresso coffee machines, flat-screen HDTVs and bedside touch panels to control lighting and window coverings.

In the bathrooms, deep soaking tubs, walk-in glass showers with 14" rainfall shower heads as well as black-lacquered custom vanities, and in-mirror TVs, create an aura of tranquility. And, with today’s guests more plugged-in than ever, each of the rooms houses the latest in business entertainment technology, including wireless high-speed Internet access and flat-screen LCD TVs.

But the owners hope service will set the property apart. “Luxury is changing,” states Levitan. “The five-star customer is changing. They used to be much older. Today, they travel a lot, they understand quality and they want attention to detail. They want the best, and they want it now.” Trump delivers it through signature services such as the Trump attaché, a hybrid concierge/butler who meticulously records each guest’s preference and maintains a detailed guest history to ensure ultimate guest satisfaction.

And, in an increasingly stressful world, what’s a luxury hotel without refuge for guest pampering. The bi-level 15,000-square-foot Quartz Crystal Spa, perched high above the city on the 31st and 32nd floor, offers inspirational city views while guests unwind. Named forr the 19th-century Russian ritual of using quartz crystal baths for healing, nurturing and detoxifying, the spa has 10 treatment rooms, and includes a spray-tan room, a hair-styling salon and separate VIP lounges for men and women. It too has an attaché who guides guests through the spa experience, which also features a heated indoor 65-foot saltwater infinity pool, steam baths, sauna and fully equipped gym with exercise studios.

Appealing to Bay Street’s power brokers, Stock restaurant is captained by Todd Clarmo, formerly of Toronto’s Canoe restaurant. The swank eatery, on the 31st floor, seats 135 with an additional 40 seats upstairs in a private dining room, which can accommodate overflow. Soaring 18-foot ceilings are matched by sweeping city views and design details such as a leather-wrapped hostess station, built-in banquettes with leather seats and tufted fabric backs as well as herringbone wood flooring in warm grey-fumed oak. It even features an outdoor patio built on an overhang. As for wine aficionados, master sommelier John Szabo has assembled a wine list that features 5,000 bottles showcased in a stunning wine wall.

Though early restaurant reviews haven’t been favourable, Levitan, who owns and runs the restaurant, isn’t fazed. “It’s hard to get a reservation,” she says. “People who genuinely love to experience the finest things in life don’t really react [to reviews]. As Donald Trump says, ‘Any publicity is good publicity.’”

Those looking for a place to unwind and indulge in a drink after work can opt for Suits, the main-floor lobby lounge. “I call this location Main and Main,” quips Levitan. “This is the heart of the city — where deals are made. The exposure to the entire corner, with your four primary banks is significant. Everything is at a glance.”

Suits plays into its close proximity to the TSE by highlighting the day’s stock-market activity on a TV screen at the bar. “When [numbers] are going up, people drink, when [numbers] are going down, people drink even more,” quips Damelincourt. “We wanted this space to feel substantial but also comfortable,” adds Levitan, pointing to details such as tufting, comfortable seating and banquettes, while underscoring the lounge’s chic elegance, punctuated by black crystal chandeliers, ebony wood, Italian onyx and antique mirrors.

At 12,000 square feet, the banquet space on the ninth and 10th floors deliver seating for 160 and 200, respectively, with standing room for 550 people. The rooms are connected by an impressive grand-chrome finished winding staircase and filigree etching, making it ideal for weddings. “The beauty of the space,” says Damelincourt, “is you can have a reception on one floor, followed by dinner on the other. It allows us to personalize the experience.” Since opening in January, Levitan boasts “We’ve already been seeing repeat guests. It’s great to get people in through the door the first time, but when they come back, it’s a sign we’ve done something right,” she says.

There’s no mistaking that Trump Toronto is designed to be a show-stopper. Still, there are those who wonder whether Toronto can sustain the recent influx of so many luxury properties. Levitan and Damelincourt aren’t worried. “At the end of the day, it’s just 1,000 rooms,” says the former. As to whether guests will pay top dollars, Damelincourt is confident the hotel will become the market leader in RevPAR and rate. “You have to remember that until now Toronto didn’t have the product.” That’s no longer the case. With a range of luxury offerings to suit every taste, Toronto may finally have arrived as a world-class destination. What remains to be seen is whether there are enough champagne wishes and caviar dreams to sustain it.

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