Lawmakers worked on a plan to rescue and update Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino earlier this year, but state Senate President Stephen Sweeney said it failed when financier Carl Icahn would not sign off.
“He’s personally the reason Trump Plaza closed,” Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, said before an event in Atlantic City last week. “Because, you know,” he said later, “billionaires like him are what’s wrong with this country.”
Icahn could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Sweeney said he and state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, drafted legislation that would have enabled the casino to tap into $40 million of state funds to update the property.
“There were conceptual conversations,” Whelan said, adding “there were a lot of moving parts in the attempt to rescue the Trump properties, and we never could get them lined up.”
Icahn balked over a proposed $25 million match, Sweeney said.
“He would not let that happen,” he said, adding that even when they proposed tapping into Casino Reinvestment Development Authority funding, Icahn would not sign off.
Trump Plaza, with its chandeliers and Reagan-era brass-and-smoked-glass decor, had long been seen as out of date, having been updated little since its May 1984 opening.
Filmmakers tapped into that vibe in 2001, when they set a scene from the movie “Ocean’s Eleven” on the casino floor.
A February 2009 bankruptcy reduced Donald Trump to a 10 percent stake. Icahn now essentially holds the mortgage to the property, controlling about $286 million in first-lien debt secured by Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza, which makes him first to be paid back in a bankruptcy. Icahn also owns Tropicana Casino and Resort outright.
Trump Plaza closed Sept. 16, putting about 1,000 people out of work. Trump Taj Mahal, which employs about 2,800 people, has signaled it may close in November, barring significant concessions on city taxes and union contracts.
Whelan said efforts to keep the properties open are “ongoing” but “it really requires the city, the state, CRDA, which is the state, the unions and the bond holder, which is Carl Icahn, to work together and get some skin in the game.”
Trump Entertainment asked state and local officials in September to lower their taxes by giving them a five-year freeze and cutting the assessments of Trump Plaza from $248 million to $40 million and the Taj Mahal from $1 billion to $300 million.
It also said it needed to drop health insurance coverage for 1,100 workers from Local 54 of UNITE-HERE and move from pensions to 401(k) plans instead.
Both city and union officials rejected the proposals.
Whelan said he understood why Local 54 and the city refused to sign off on the Trump proposal.
“I don’t know how to say, ‘Yeah, we can keep it open, but you have to give up your health benefits.’”
“He (Icahn) doesn’t want it (Trump Plaza) open,” Sweeney said. “He doesn’t want the Taj Mahal open. So then he comes up with these ridiculous offers — that he’s going to strip all the benefits. Why doesn’t he tell people he’ll keep the place open if they’ll work for free?”
Contact Derek Harper:
@dnharper on Twitter