Trump’s Doomed Black Sea Tower Might Happen After All

  • ‘The Monte Carlo of the Caucasus’ was how Trump described city
  • Deal was with rival of government, which may now change tunes

Trump speaks to then Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Batumi, Georgia, on April 22, 2012.

Photographer: Seyran Baroyan/AFP via Getty Images

Donald Trump flew to the Black Sea resort town of Batumi in 2012 and, standing alongside then Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, announced a deal licensing his name to a $250-million 47-story residential Trump Tower to be built by a local developer called Silk Road Group.

Six months later, Saakashvili’s party lost parliamentary elections and later his term ended. He left Georgia, afraid his newly empowered opponents might jail him. Batumi’s Trump Tower seemed doomed -- until now.

“The project will go ahead, talks are on,” Giorgi Ramishvili, Silk Road’s founder, told Georgian television Tuesday. “As soon as the transition period is over some time in January, we can talk.”

Reached by phone, Ramishvili declined to elaborate. “I cannot say anything else without the green light of partners,’’ he said.

Easier Financing?

The Georgian development is one of many Trump deals suddenly in a new light now that they are associated with the incoming U.S. president. Experts say some may find financing or approval more easily, raising concerns over conflict of interest. Trump has said he will outline his plan to remove himself from his business Thursday, but deals he’s signed with business partners around the world are unlikely to be torn up.

The Trump Organization didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Lincoln Mitchell, a former Columbia University professor and expert on Georgia, said the government may green-light the project because it’s eager to build a relationship with the incoming president -- or perhaps afraid of alienating the professed admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Georgia sits at the crossroads of pipelines carrying oil and gas to Europe and is strategically important for the West. It was scarred by its war with Russia in 2008 over breakaway regions, and a fifth of the country remains under the control of pro-Russian forces. Georgian officials, still hopeful that their country might join NATO, are nervous about Trump’s professed desire to forge closer U.S.-Russian relations.

Contempt

The announcement of the Trump Tower came in the run-up to parliamentary elections in 2012, which Saakashvili’s party lost to former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition. Ivanishvili, who remains a powerful figure, expressed contempt for Trump and the project.

"Trump did not invest in Georgia," he told reporters in 2012. "It was kind of like a trick. They gave him money and they both played along, Saakashivli and Trump. And, as you know, Saakashvili was the master of lies. I don’t know what project this is, I’ve never been seriously interested. We won’t do anything based on such fairy tales."

Saakashvili didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump aligned himself closely with Saakashvili when he announced the Georgian development and called Batumi the Monte Carlo of the Caucasus. The two first signed plans for the project earlier in 2012 when they met in New York. It followed years of groundwork first by Trump’s ex-wife Ivana, who traveled to Georgia in 2009, and then Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, who spent three days there in 2010.

Private Plane

When Trump finally touched down in Georgia himself, he invited Saakashvili on his private plane.

"I’ve never seen anything like this!" the Georgian leader said while aboard the jet. Trump, in turn, heaped praise on Saakashvili, calling him an “amazing” leader who had worked “miracles.” 

The Batumi tower was part of a broader Trump search for deals in the former Soviet Union. While in Georgia, Trump said he’d been approached by a Russian developer to do something "very substantial in Moscow." Nothing came of those talks.

Saakashvili left in 2013 and was later stripped of his Georgian citizenship after he was accused of crimes that he said were politically motivated. He took up Ukrainian citizenship and went on to serve as the governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region until he resigned last month.

Not On Fast Track

Whatever projects he started in Georgia were clearly not on a fast track after his departure. 

"No one was going to raise this with the new government -- ‘Hey, what about that Trump project?’ -- because it was associated with the previous defeated government,” Mitchell said.

Moreover, money would be hard to find for the planned Trump Tower, said Irakli Kilauridze, managing director at real-estate firm Colliers International in Georgia.

Mitchell added, "They think, ‘if we play to his economic interests, maybe we’ll get some favors politically.’ That’s how politics works in the former Soviet Union. These things may not actually affect our policy, but Georgia will think it does."

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