ATLANTIC CITY — Bette Midler will have her say. She’s already tweeted about her “itchy demo finger” while musing about a since-canceled charity auction to be the one to start the Feb. 17 implosion of the former Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.
Many will likewise tweet and cheer and take a visceral satisfaction as Atlantic City, in its inimitable attention-seeking way, offers up an exclamation point to the end of the Trump presidency: a post-Trump Plaza implosion coda to a post-Trump presidency impeachment, a literal wiping out of the once larger-than-life Trump footprint reduced to a literal shell of itself — cue the metaphors.
“You know, to me, it’s just like ridding the city of the part of the Trump stench,” says attorney Stephen Dicht of Margate, who is active in local Democratic politics and plans on attending the 9 a.m. implosion, which officials said can be most safely viewed from Bader Field on the outskirts of town (for $10 a car). The immediate surrounding blocks, beach, and Boardwalk will be closed off.
“He did so much wrong in Atlantic City, and then he left that disgusting building there, which is the first people see coming in off the Expressway,” Dicht said. “I just wish he would go away like the building would go away.”
But for others, like many who worked at the Plaza, which closed on Sept. 16, 2014, after a 30-year-run and is owned by billionaire Carl Icahn, the implosion at the heart of a struggling town plays somewhat differently.
“If they want the building in effigy in his name, that’s all good and well, that’s their right,” said Felix Cruz, 55, a room-service waiter at the Plaza between 1984 and 2014, who met Mick Jagger there among other celebrities. “But people have to understand, a lot of people made a good living out of that building.”
Like many in Atlantic City, Cruz harbors the odd Trump tidbit like, “He would take Ivana Trump to the Taj. Seven, eight blocks away, he would have Marla Maples at Trump Plaza.” By 2009 Trump had lost control of all but 10% of his interest in Trump Entertainment Resorts; he later sued to have his name removed from the buildings.
Cruz said he made $500 a day, $700 a day on weekends in the good years, “bought two houses, bought two cars, now own my own karate studio with the money.”
For Van Jones II, 33, a bar porter from 2005 until the closing, and second-generation Trump Plaza employee, it was never about Trump himself. It was always “The Plaza,” the place where he and his mother worked for decades.
“Honestly, that was like my first real job,” he said. “When I got hired I was 18, had just graduated high school, like three days prior.”
When he was a kid, his mother, a cocktail waitress, would take him along when employees had “summer bids and winter bids” to choose hours. He basically grew up there.
“When I think of Trump Plaza, I don’t think of Donald Trump,” he said. “He wasn’t really involved. My dad actually met him, when he worked there. He was standing in the lobby, at the bottom of the escalator and here comes Donald Trump, coming down the escalator. He puts his hand on my dad’s shoulder and said, ‘Is everything OK?’ He told me that story.”
Suzé DiPietro, a public relations executive for the Trump properties from 1991 to 2002, can still see George Clooney coming down the escalator of the Plaza for the opening of Ocean’s 11, filmed at Trump Plaza in 2001. “It was very iconic,” she said.
She notes that one of the attractions for director Steven Soderbergh was just how dated the Plaza was.
“Nothing really happened at the Plaza,” she said. “It remained timeless. I don’t know what the thoughts were up top, they kind of left it as it was. Because it was at a prime location at the end of the Expressway, people just went there.”
No fan of Trump in general, she said the former casino mogul who commanded so much adulation in Atlantic City was, as president, just an extension of what she saw in Atlantic City. “He has not changed,” she said. “It just became worse.”
She calls the implosion “poetic justice,” but notes what she’ll feel is “sadness.”
“To me it signals the sadness of how Atlantic City went down,” she said. “We became the foreclosure capital of the world. He never invested a single dime back into those properties, not one dime. He took all the money out, never put the money in.”
Bernie Dillon oversaw sports and entertainment at the Plaza from the 1984 opening until 1991: the glory years of the legendary 91-second Tyson-Spinks fight, Wrestlemania, Neil Diamond, and all the celebs who sat ringside: Oprah, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand. Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley.
Dillon is planning to have breakfast at the Ducktown Tavern on Wednesday, then walk a block on Atlantic Avenue and watch the implosion “with mixed emotions.”
“I’m torn because I opened that property,” Dillon said. “I just remember the energy that that building was able to create for Atlantic City.
“It was the centerpiece of the Boardwalk,” he said. “Now we look back and say it was pretty gaudy. But it was an opulent, wonderful place.”
The June 27, 1988, Tyson-Spinks championship fight, hosted by Trump Plaza in the adjacent Boardwalk Hall, capped a string of high-profile fights brought to Atlantic City by Trump. It grossed $13 million for the casino, Dillon said.
“Ninety-one seconds, blink your eyes and it’s over,” Dillon said. “We charged $1,500 a seat. Some people complained, they were standing in line waiting for a beer and missed the entire fight. It got people back to the casino faster, which wasn’t a bad thing.”
Sheldon Ossoff will be in town Wednesday, naturally, just as he was for the Sands implosion on Oct. 18, 2007, a nighttime extravaganza complete with fireworks (which nonetheless left a still-vacant lot). He also played a final hand as the Plaza closed, and made a point of closing out three other casinos that year. He’s got a comped room at Caesars and has requested a view of Trump Plaza, he said.
Back in Atlantic City, Mayor Marty Small Sr. said the important thing is the long-sought removal of a hazard and eyesore, with pieces of facade falling before the tower was wrapped in black netting. (The section on the Boardwalk, where traces of the Trump logo are still visible, will be demolished after the implosion).
Small is hoping the Icahn organization will develop the property into a family-friendly showpiece for the town.
“This isn’t about politics,” Small said. “This isn’t about Donald Trump. His history was here in Atlantic City long before he declared to be a presidential candidate.
“This is about the tear-down, the cleanup, and the ultimate rebuild,” Small said.
Johnny Exadaktilos, owner of the Ducktown Tavern on Atlantic Avenue, where fortunes are tied to a casino and pandemic economy, blamed neglect for the demise of the property, which expanded over the years as Trump battled with neighbors, most famously with widow Vera Coking, who fought off Trump’s effort to take her home, and the Sabatini family, who sold their restaurant to him in 2005.
“I’m happy to see it come down, aesthetically, but it’s disappointing that nothing will ever replace it of its size, or even come close,” Exadaktilos said. “I hope it’s not just like another Sands parking lot.”
On the upside, Exadaktilos has watched the old-school craftsmanship of Boardwalk Hall become revealed by ongoing demolition. Historians and architects will rejoice, if not presidential archaeologists.
“Listen, the guy hasn’t been in Atlantic City in over 10 years,” Exadaktilos said. “He came in, built four casinos. He is a shrewd businessman, I guess. I don’t know. I just hope it’s a symbol of resurgence for Atlantic City in this part of town.”