TUNJA, Colombia — Of all the would-be business partners of President Trump who have been hoping to capitalize on his win, there is surely no one who stands to gain quite as much — relatively speaking — as young Colombian builder Nicolás Jiménez.
Jiménez, you see, doesn’t have much to begin with.
His company, Fortún, is the local partner of U.S. investors who have drawn up a $350 million plan to build the Trump International Hotel and Tower Bogota, featuring two 72-story skyscrapers that would be among the tallest in Latin America. New York-based Yun Capital, a longtime Trump backer, is putting up the money; Jiménez has been looking for a site and said he hopes to finalize a deal this month.
That would be great for Jiménez, 27, because he has never built a skyscraper, let alone a hotel or office building, or anything taller than three stories, for that matter. His company does not have a website. He still lives with his parents.
“Big things sometimes start small,” said Jiménez, which sounded like something his idol would say.
What Jiménez lacks in credentials he makes up for in Trumpian chutzpah. His story is a reminder that not all of the would-be foreign business partners of the Trump Organization are big players and well-connected investors. Some are fervent devotees with boundless faith in the Trump brand, like Jiménez. Others are relatively small-time investors who see the Trump name as a golden ticket to obtain financing or customers.
Alan Garten, general counsel for the Trump Organization, said in an interview last month that the majority of deals presented to the company “are not consummated, and we do not move forward with them. I would say 5 percent maybe” are approved. And Trump and his employees have said several times — most recently in a Jan. 11 news conference — that the company will make “no new foreign deals” while he is president. Asked about Jiménez’s tower, Garten reiterated this month that the firm has no projects in Colombia.
Jiménez said that he and his partners are undeterred. The Bogota towers would take years to build, he said, so he and his associates can wait to get the rights to the Trump name, perhaps when the president is out of office. Or they will be Yun Towers, named for Yun Capital founder Jung Yun. “Ms. Yun is looking to develop her own brand,” Jiménez said.
It would be hard to find an aspiring Trump partner with a construction résumé as humble as Jiménez’s.
The business address of Fortún, his company, is that of his parents’ house in Tunja, the provincial city where he grew up, a two-hour drive north of Bogota.
Fortún’s portfolio consists of two small apartment buildings in Tunja and some bungalows in another part of rural Colombia. In recent months, Jiménez’s search for a site for a high-end tower has rocketed him into the boardrooms of Bogota bankers and property owners who have never heard of him or his company.
Jiménez readies for meetings with powerful, silver-haired executives by psyching himself up on the dictums of Trump’s best-selling books, which he began reading at age 11, such as “Think Big and Kick Ass” and “Time to Get Tough.” He takes special inspiration from “The Art of the Deal.”
“Sure, sometimes I’m nervous, but I tell myself to go in those meetings like I own the world,” he said in an interview at a friend’s insurance office.
Julie Kim, a spokeswoman for Yun Capital, which claims to “specialize in projects ranging from $50M to Billions,” confirmed that Jiménez is the company’s business partner in Colombia. But Kim said the firm would not comment about the status of the project in Bogota, or about the nature of the Trump family’s potential involvement. The Trump Organization’s deals often involve management and licensing contracts rather than cash investments.
The proposed Bogota towers exist only on paper, but some would-be partners of the Trump Organization have not lost hope that such projects can move forward. The Trump family itself may have fanned such ideas.
Eric Trump, the new president’s son, who has assumed leadership of the Trump Organization together with his brother Donald Trump Jr., said during a trip to Uruguay this month that the company was still looking to Latin America. “There are opportunities in Panama, Colombia,” he told an Argentine reporter. “There is a lot to do. It is a tremendous market.”
Talk of a Trump-themed development in Colombia goes back nearly a decade. The family initially considered building a hotel on a lot near the Caribbean tourist hub of Cartagena, on land owned by former president César Gaviria, said Camilo Benedetti, who accompanied Trump Jr. on a visit to Colombia six years ago.
In an interview, Benedetti said that Yun introduced him to the Trump family, and that he brought Trump Jr. to a meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos in 2011. Benedetti’s brother, a powerful Colombian senator aligned with Santos, was also present, he said.
Those talks didn’t lead to anything firm, Benedetti said, because the Trump family “didn’t like the land available.” Benedetti’s reputation took a hit when he was called to testify in an oil-related corruption scandal and multiple Colombian reports identified him as a target of the investigation, though Benedetti was never charged and said he did nothing wrong.
While the Cartagena deal never took off, an article about the Trump family’s interest in Colombia caught the attention of Jiménez, then a university student majoring in business administration.
The article mentioned Yun Capital, so Jiménez sent an email to the company. To his surprise, Yun wrote back. She was interested in building something in Bogota, and Jiménez offered to help, even though he didn’t live anywhere near the city.
“As Trump says, if you’re going to think, why not think big?” he said.
Jiménez said Yun was looking for a partner in Colombia who, unlike the well-connected Benedetti, “wasn’t involved in anything political.” Jiménez was a good fit, at least in that regard.
Yun did not offer Jiménez a formal contact, but she provided him with a “letter of interest” on company stationery. Whenever someone doesn’t quite believe Jiménez is working on the Trump project, he whips out Yun’s letter, dated Nov. 12, 2012.
“Dear Mr. Jiménez: it is our pleasure to write to you on behalf of Yun Capital to express our interest to invest $500M USD on a five (5) star mixed use TRUMP development in Bogota,” the letter begins.
Jiménez was 23 years old then.
“About two years ago, the time came for us to meet in person, so I went to New York,” he said. They had lunch at Becco, in Hell’s Kitchen, with architect Rugel Chiriboga, whose firm, EQV Consortium, has produced the sketches of the 2.3 million square foot Trump complex in Bogota, a mix of office, luxury residences and hotel space.
Yun has made two trips to Colombia since then to look at potential sites for the Trump towers, Jiménez said.
The lots that Jiménez has been scouting for Yun are in Bogota’s upscale northern district. Jimenez said Yun had told him he’ll receive “a small share” in the project, but he has not received any compensation to date.
Luis Diaz, general manager of the large Colombian developer Oikos, said he thought Yun’s proposed construction budget of $350 million to $500 million was a realistic figure, and he predicted there would be strong demand for the Trump-branded luxury properties.
But Diaz said it was unusual for a foreign firm such as Yun Capital to partner with someone as young as Jiménez, whom he had never heard of.
“It’s important to work with established companies who know the laws, know the banks, so that they can benefit from someone with experience,” Diaz said.
On Twitter, Jiménez has said Trump’s electoral win represented a “Jesus Christ blessing.” This is not an especially popular view in Latin America, where Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants have fueled a perception that the new U.S. president is anti-Hispanic.
Among his friends and relatives, Jiménez is often Trump’s lone defender. He is confident Trump will prove them all wrong — just as the young Colombian will triumph over the doubters who say the Bogota towers will never be built.
“I’m sure I’ll get to meet him someday,” Jiménez said. “That’s my dream.”
Kevin Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.