A real-estate development company in the South Caucasus state of Georgia, a close US ally, has announced plans to proceed with a long-stalled Trump-Tower project; a claim that, if realized, could raise further sticky questions about the dividing line between business and government under a Trump administration.
Plans for a Trump Tower in the popular Black-Sea casino mecca of Batumi, a town of about 130,000 people, have existed since 2010. The Trump name was expected to appear on both a 47-storey Batumi skyscraper complex and, eventually, a residence in the capital, Tbilisi.
But little or no word has been made about these grandiose plans since Donald Trump’s 2012 visit to Georgia to kick off the Batumi project.
Now, just over a week after Trump’s election as US president, the Batumi skyscraper-to-be appears back on the table.
In a November 16 interview with the Georgian news agency Interpressnews, a senior executive at the Silk Road Group, the Trump Organization’s original partner in the deal, stated that the company plans to proceed with the project.
“We have six years of stable relations with the Trump Organization. Together we are looking into the situation,” said Giorgi Marr, who oversees the Group’s real-estate operations.
The nature of this partnership is unclear. In 2011, Trump’s special counsel, Michael Cohen, told EurasiaNet.org that the two hold a licensing agreement, but neither the Silk Road Group nor he would elaborate about a closer association.
The actual price of the Batumi project – long assumed to be a stumbling block – also has been open to speculation, with some initial estimates soaring into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
How the Silk Road will manage the financing this time around is unclear.
While tourism recently has surged in both Batumi and Tbilisi — particularly among Russians, already established as regular Trump customers — neither city could be called a top-tier real-estate market. Georgia’s annual per-capita income stood at just $3,767 in 2015.
But Marr’s optimism appears steady. Real-estate prices have improved and Georgia, he claimed, has an “advantageous investment environment.”
What he described as “unexpected opposition” to the Trump project from the former government of Achara, the region of which Batumi is the seat, also no longer stands in the way, he said.
“[I]n the near future, we’re planning to continue this ambitious project. Precisely this attitude gives us the foundation to execute the original idea and build a Trump Towers in Batumi.”
The Achara regional government could not be reached for comment about its current views on hosting a Trump Tower.
Batumi, however, is not the only Caucasus site that has grabbed the president-elect’s attention. Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, contains a would-be Trump International Hotel and Tower, a joint project with Garant Holding, a company run by Anar Mammadov, son of Azerbaijan’s longtime transportation minister, Ziya Mammadov.
Work on the building reportedly has stopped, but an image of the hotel still holds price of place on the Garant Holding website. In his candidate financial-disclosure forms, Trump claimed to have earned nearly $3 million on the hotel-project between summer 2014 and spring 2016, The Washington Post reported.
How the Trump Organization will pursue such ventures during a Trump presidency has become the object of intense public debate in the US. The president-elect plans to let his three oldest children – Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump – look after his business interests, but some US media outlets have charged that this arrangement will involve the chief of state in unprecedented conflicts of interest.
In Georgia, where allegations about elected officials double-dipping into business are routine, no public attention has focused on these concerns.
What matters primarily to many is Georgia’s relationship with the United States, seen as the world’s top power, and its ability, as a small country, to hold on to Washington’s attention.
Georgia’s success on that score is uneven. But, now, if it can’t get US President-Elect Donald Trump’s attention any other way, it just might be able to try mentioning its Trump Tower.