When the Trump Organisation decides to get involved in a project, the one thing you can be certain about is that it will create a buzz. Though the economic downturn has impacted upon real estate deals across the globe – nowhere more acutely than the commercial real estate business in New York from where Donald Trump runs his business empire – the group has made one deal which it says the downturn has not adversely affected. George Soriel, one of Mr Trump’s trusty lieutenants, is leading the golf course development project in Aberdeen, Scotland, which has caused much controversy among the local community and garnered global attention in the process.

The Trump Organisation was granted outline planning permission in November by the Scottish parliament. The project is to include two championship courses, a five-star hotel with 450 bedrooms, a golf academy, 950 holiday homes, 500 private family homes and 36 luxury golf villas. The ruling followed a couple of years of local opposition from conservationists and members of the local council. However, the business community as a whole is overwhelmingly in support of the project, which will provide much-needed inward investment to an area which is largely dependent on the oil and gas sector for jobs and economic growth.

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With interests in Canada, the Dominican Republic, Dubai, South Korea, Puerto Rico and Turkey, to name just a few, the Trump Organisation is no stranger to overseas projects. Mr Soriel views expansion out of the US as an integral part of the company’s future, where opportunities exist despite the current economic downturn. “Our development team is looking all over the world for opportunities because a good deal is a good deal, wherever it is,” he says. Choosing Scotland for the company’s first overseas golf project was a natural choice, according to Mr Soriel. Not only is it the birthplace of golf, with an established industry, but Mr Trump has ancestral ties there.

Taking the smooth with the rough

Despite difficult economic conditions in which the Trump Organisation’s casino company filed for bankruptcy in February, Mr Soriel says the downturn has had its benefits. A significantly lower exchange rate meant the company was able to lock in many contracts at a more favourable price, making savings of about 30% to 35%. “On a £1bn [$1.6bn] project, we’re talking about savings in the hundreds of millions of pounds,” he says. And as the UK construction industry was hit by a huge slowdown as a result of the recession, the company has found that it literally has dozens of contractors submitting bids and has consequently been able to negotiate better contracts. Added to that, the price of raw materials has dropped dramatically. “Obviously no one wants to be in the middle of a down cycle but there are certain advantages and things you can capitalise on,” says Mr Soriel.

The project is a far cry from the company’s safety zone of putting up a 90-storey tower block in Manhattan, which meant relying on the best available local talent for guidance through the development process. And Mr Soriel spent a lot of time in Aberdeen, not just managing the project but building relationships with the local government and the business community. The company hopes to break ground later this year and is still in detailed planning stages.

As with any project, stakeholders are keen that things keep moving and that the course is built as soon as possible. Not least the group of loyal Trump customers. Until recently, most international visitors to Scotland’s golf courses were North American, but many established courses such as St Andrews are now openly courting global trade from developing golf markets such as China and India. When the project was announced, the company received enquiries from all over the world. “And that really hasn’t stopped,” says Mr Soriel, who adds that the project’s future success lies in that fact that golf lovers across the globe are teeing up for the chance to play on a Trump-branded course.

COMPANY PROFILE

THE TRUMP ORGANISATION

Headquarters

New York, USBusiness activities

Real estate development, golf course development, merchandising, entertainment, hotelsFounded

1974Employees

22,450