Eric Trump could not help but envision a sea of business opportunities when the finance major at Georgetown University would head out on his moonlight jogs around Washington.
“The power of the city is something that can’t be rivaled anywhere else in the world,” said Trump, 29, who now works for his father, You Know Who. “When you see the true might of the United States government, and see those buildings and the power . . . it’s an incredible, incredible place.”
Incredible enough that the Trumps are establishing a beachhead here.
Eric Trump is now a point person for the Trump Organization’s growing investments in Virginia. His sister, Ivanka, recently spearheaded the family’s pursuit of Washington’s Old Post Office, where the Trumps plan to create a luxury hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Eric runs the Trump National golf course along the Potomac River in Loudoun County, which he says has more than 700 members, including many big-name Washingtonians. The course is one of 13 the company operates around the world, including one along the North Sea in Scotland.
As executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization, Eric is also responsible for the Trump Winery, on the former estate of Patricia Kluge near Charlottesville.
The Trumps’ acquisition of the financially troubled estate and winery is a case study of how to craft a smart real estate purchase without paying the full price. Even the Wall Street Journal admiringly referred to the Kluge (pronounced clue-gee) transaction as a “windfall.”
“It’s the art of the deal,” said Eric, quoting his father’s book of the same name and crediting his dad for having the business chops — honed over decades in New York City real estate wars — to close the deal.
Eric, like his dad, loves to wax on about the family’s purchases. In addition to golf courses, there’s Mar-a-Lago, the legendary Palm Beach, Fla., estate of heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. The Trumps have turned it into an exclusive club where the family gathers during holidays.
His famous father’s career bridges real estate, entertainment (the Miss USA Pageant, “The Apprentice”), books and lately politics. Donald Trump went on David Letterman’s “Late Show” last week, offering to donate $5 million to the charity of President Obama’s choice if the president would release his college transcripts and passport records. Obama hasn’t taken the offer.
“People absolutely love my father and the fact he says what everyone else is thinking but are afraid to say,” said Eric, whose pronouncements suggest that exuberance, and not a little self-confidence, runs in the family.
The Kluge estate is the family’s latest score. Patricia Kluge is the former wife of the late John Kluge, ranked by Forbes as one of the richest people in the United States. When they divorced, she used the $100 million-or-so settlement she received to build a world-class winery and picturesque estate on about 1,000 acres outside Charlottesville.
Patricia planted a vineyard, launched a winery, indulged her love for Jefferson horse carriages, constructed a nine-hole golf course and even built a chapel on the grounds so she could worship without leaving the property.
Then she filed for bankruptcy.
The property was a mash of large parcels, including one 300-acre piece — known as “the front yard” — that fronted the 32,000-square-foot mansion and ended, literally, a few feet from the front door. The rest, including the vineyard, barns, winery and chapel, were sprawled around various properties. All told, sources said everything was appraised at $132 million.
The front yard was owned by a trust run by Patricia and John’s son, John Kluge Jr. The mansion and the parcel it sat on was in Patricia’s name.
When the banks foreclosed on Patricia, she turned to Donald Trump — who was a close friend of her ex-husband — for advice.
The Trump Organization bought the 300-acre front yard — without the home — a year ago for less than $200,000. Within days, Trump bought several more parcels for around $6 million, again ignoring the house.
Then the Trumps sat back and waited.
By purchasing everything but the Kluge mansion, “prospective buyers would have to drive through our property to their house,” Eric said. “It made the house unsellable. It left an incredible house on very little land, in the middle of a sea of Trump.”
After months going back and forth with banks, Trump closed on the mansion — with its rooms imported from Europe and expensive marble throughout — a few weeks ago, buying the house from Bank of America for $6.7 million.
In all, the family scooped up the home and surrounding property, including a working vineyard and winery, for less than $13 million.
The Trumps even came away with $10 million worth of wine. And they have expanded the state to 1,500 acres by purchasing more surrounding property.
With no debt, and a one-of-a-kind piece of property for pennies on the dollar, Eric Trump said he is happy to sell wine, host weddings and wait as long as it takes for the right pitch.
“The property runs itself, which is an amazing problem to have,” he said happily. “The house is one of the most beautiful houses in the country or world. You can’t see another structure except what’s on the property. We’re in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can see thousands of acres of grassland, hundreds and hundreds of acres of perfectly symmetrical rows of vines. Lakes. Birds. Wildlife.”
So many possibilities bobbing on a sea of Trump.
For previous Value Added columns, go to washingtonpost.com/ business.