The Trump Alter Ego Who Stuck to Real Estate
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because his wacky ideas might just turn around this near-bankrupt city.
By James Watkins
Meet our protagonist: a 70-year-old billionaire real estate developer with a flagship property in Palm Beach, Florida. He’s seriously litigious, and courts controversy by combining legal disputes with non-PC verbal disputes. He’s headstrong and extravagant. He uses the royal “we,” and asserts his aim is to “make Atlantic City great again.” The thinning hair remaining on his head is carefully coiffed into something that’s not quite a comb-over.
“Do I need another million dollars?” he muses. “No. We’ve already got quite a few zeros behind our name.”
No, not him. This is Glenn Straub, a West Virginia–born businessman, industrialist and real estate developer who’s betting big on Atlantic City, the New Jersey tourist city where two different empty beachfront palaces still have T-R-U-M-P spelled out on their facades, in grimy shadows of the red block letters once affixed there. The Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza were two of the five Atlantic City mega-casinos that have closed since 2014; a third — the 1,400-room, $2.4 billion Revel Casino Hotel — shuttered only two years after opening. Straub picked up Revel for just $82 million in bankruptcy court, 3.4 cents on the dollar. When it opens, the resort (not, he emphasizes, a casino — “casinos are dying”) will feature 13 restaurants, five nightclubs, spas and hotels, as well as a rope course and a zip line. “Non-gaming is the way that the city’s going to grow,” says Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at South Jersey’s Stockton University.
The successful redevelopment of Revel (rebranded as TEN) may be key to the near-bankrupt city’s revival. Gaming revenues have tumbled in recent years, from a peak of $5.2 billion in 2006 to just $2.6 billion 10 years later, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. The plummet, says Pandit, is primarily due to competition from new casinos in neighboring Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware. Job losses in the thousands accompanied each casino closure; a fully operating TEN could employ 4,000, Straub claims. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 10,000 unemployed people in the Atlantic City metropolitan area, at a rate of 8.2 percent (the U.S. average is 4.5). But with distress comes opportunity.
I’m an impulse person. If I don’t think someone’s doing me right, I’m gonna take them to court — instead of shooting them.
Straub has plans beyond TEN, though it remains to be seen how much of his eccentric vision will be realized. The city-owned former airport at Bader Field may soon be up for sale — Straub wants to turn it into a ski slope, complete with half-pipes and jumps, as well as a monster-truck drag strip and soccer fields. Then there’s the city’s water plant, which he’s hoping to add to his portfolio. Straub’s real estate empire has historically comprised 26 manufacturing plants, among 600-plus other properties in the U.S. and abroad.
After his father’s death when Glenn was just a teenager, Straub and his brother inherited a small group of car leasing companies and auto dealerships. Later, he bought an asphalt company that would become an Appalachian industrial empire. He retired at age 40, but then began amassing real estate. He’ll try retirement again, at 80, he says. In the meantime, he keeps himself young with a daily workout, and he has spoken about his desire to live past 100 with the help of life-extension therapy. He’s played full-contact polo for more than 25 years, which has contributed to several of the 54 broken bones Straub has had in his life. He wants to see polo and show jumping on the grounds of TEN in the summer, as well as a university-backed research center for life-extension therapy, from cryogenics to blood transfusions.
But there are plenty of hurdles standing in his way. Straub has been mired in legal battles with New Jersey state-level gaming authorities pretty much since the day he bought the former Revel. The key contention? Whether Straub himself needs a gaming license, given that the casino floor will be run by a tenant. But litigation is par for the course when dealing with Straub, says Anne Gerwig, mayor of the village of Wellington, where Straub’s flagship Palm Beach Polo Golf & Country Club is located. In the seven years Gerwig has been dealing with Straub, there have been several lawsuits over code violations, land use and environmental protection. Wellington is home to several other mega-rich residents — Bill Gates and Bruce Springsteen among them — and Gerwig is used to working with strong egos. “If you treat [Straub] with respect, you have a much better chance of coming to an agreement,” she says. Straub doesn’t deny his litigious tendencies. “I’m an impulse person,” he says. “If I don’t think someone’s doing me right, I’m gonna take them to court — instead of shooting them.”
He will fight this particular legal battle all the way, he says — giving in and getting a casino license is out of the question as it would jeopardize the other properties under this particular holding company. “Too much bureaucratic red tape,” he argues, is holding back investment in the city — “he calls it a swamp, and it definitely is.” But Straub has no plans to follow that particular “he” into politics: “He’s just a competitor. I like him when I beat him on a bid, I don’t like him when he beats me.” Just like his alter ego in the White House, this gruff, headstrong real estate magnate is all about the winning.
* Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly named the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism.