Fortifying Trump Tower: The Cost Behind Securing White House North
President Donald Trump might have officially moved into the White House. But unlike most past presidents, he isn't immediately joined by his family – which raises concerns about how much it could cost the government and taxpayers to protect his family at a different residence.
First lady Melania Trump and their son, Barron, are expected to live in Trump Tower New York until Barron finishes school, CNN reported. With Trump likely splitting his time between Trump Tower NYC and the White House, questions about what's needed to secure both buildings have quickly arisen.
"Trump Tower clearly raises a lot of interest because that is his home, and it’s likely that he’s going to want to go back and forth there," said David Haun, a director at Grant Thornton's Public Sector. Before joining Grant Thornton, Haun spent 33 years at the Office of Management and Budget, advising the White House and OMB on policy, program performance and budget issues for agencies like the Department of Homeland Security.
"So clearly, the Secret Service has already been having to take measures to secure Trump Tower ... they'll probably treat that as they would treat a summer home or a second home," Haun said.
But will protecting the first family and securing both the 58-story Trump Tower NYC and the White House become a major expense for federal and local agencies?
For example, the Department of Defense is currently looking to lease space in Trump Tower, reported CNN in early February. Lt. Col. JB Brindle, a Defense Department spokesman, told CNN, "The space is necessary for the personnel and equipment who will support the POTUS at his residence in the building.” But, the cost could be significant — CNN reports the floors available to rent in Trump Tower cost approximately $1.5 million a year.
Though many questions remain, here's a rough estimate of how much it might cost to fortify "White House North" and protect one of Trump's most valuable properties.
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Local Law Enforcement and Trump’s Security Service Detail
At first glance, Trump Tower's location in Manhattan might seem like a security nightmare. Located on Fifth Avenue, it's not far from the Rockefeller Center or Central Park — which means it attracts plenty of foot and vehicle traffic that could potentially pose a security threat. Luckily, Secret Service agents aren't rookies at protecting the president in the Big Apple.
"The good news about New York is that the Secret Service has a lot of experience in terms of security in New York City," said Haun. For example, because the Secret Service is responsible for protecting visiting foreign heads of state as well as the president, the agency provides security at the United Nations general assembly in New York every September — it also works with other agencies to secure the area.
"Whenever you're doing security of a city or a location, you don't rely on one police force — you bring all the security forces together so that you spread the cost … and you're able to surge manpower in a way that a single agency wouldn't be able to do," said Haun. "You have layers of security, and you have multiple agencies that bring their expertise to be a part of the overall security plan."
A similar situation is taking place at Trump Tower. The New York Times reported in November the city had assigned 50 traffic agents and police officers just to keep traffic flowing smoothly, in addition to a collection of elevated surveillance officers, bomb-sniffing dogs, heavy-weapons teams and plainclothes officers. But, of course, these security measures come at a price.
Trump Tower Security Cost NYC $24 Million
As a basis for comparison, similar security measures paid NYPD officers a total of $377,000 in overtime for a single four-hour NYC visit from President Barack Obama in 2016, Politico reported. Meanwhile, a six-hour visit to the city on June 7 amounted in a police payout of just under $470,000. In contrast, Trump will likely need around-the-clock protection for his stays at Trump Tower NYC.
All told, New York City officials said the cost of protecting Trump and his family from Election Day to Inauguration Day cost $24 million. There have also been concerns that taxpayers could potentially foot the bill for Trump's security costs.
"New York City taxpayers should not be on the hook for 80 percent of the national bill to protect our president-elect and his family's residence," said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement released in December. "We are counting on Congress to step up in the coming months to pay back what it owes our city. This is a national responsibility, and the burden cannot fall alone on our city and police department."
Additionally, it cost the New York City Fire Department $1.7 million during the time period Trump was in New York. And, it will cost an estimated $4.5 million per year for the Fire Department to protect Trump Tower when the president is back in New York, reports Reuters.
As for the cost of Secret Service, Haun said this is not a number that you can easily get from the government. The fear is that stating the cost to protect Trump and his family specifically in New York could reveal details about the Secret Service's security plan. And, for obvious reasons, these agencies are guarded about what the security plan is, said Haun.
But here's what we do know: Politico reported that a Secret Service spokesperson said the 2016 budget was $871.7 million to protect "persons and places." Again, it's unclear what the budget is to specifically protect the president and first family. As of December 2016, Politico reported the Secret Service is still on its budget of $72 million for labor and travel for protecting Trump between Oct. 1 and Jan. 20.
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Protecting Trump Tower Airspace
It's not a surprise that the Washington, D.C., area is heavily protected. In fact, the Capitol's airspace is "the most restricted in the country," according to the Federal Aviation Administration. That means in certain areas, like the National Mall and the White House, aircraft is prohibited without FAA authorization — including drones. Which begs the question: Will the airspace above Trump Tower and New York become restricted? And how much would it cost to enforce?
In November, multiple news outlets reported the FAA announced a temporary flight restriction over a large area over Manhattan — including Trump Tower — and parts of Queens. The restriction, however, is expected to expire on Jan. 21, a day after Trump's inauguration. If Trump plans on frequenting Trump Tower, Haun suspects more measures might be taken.
"If Trump Tower is going to become a permanent type of location, they're going to have to figure out a way to restrict the airspace — which they know how to do," said Haun. "Now, who's there to enforce them? If someone were to be invading a restricted airspace, that's the kind of thing the military or Department of Defense would normally enforce. That would be a Department of Defense cost."
For fiscal year 2017, Obama proposed a budget of $583 billion to fund the Department of Defense. It's unclear how much of the budget would support a possible airspace restriction above Trump Tower during Trump's presidency.
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Beefing Up Trump Tower NYC Security
Trump Tower is a staggering beauty. It has a five-story atrium as well as multiple levels of shops, galleries and eateries. It also has 38 residential floors and floor-to-ceiling windows in the condominium residential suites. But, all of that glistening glass could be a security risk.
In November, CBS New York reported workers had begun replacing Trump's penthouse windows with bullet-proof glass. Though the cost of this specific project is unknown, Lee Mandel, a security expert at IntraLogic Solutions, provided some estimates based on his past experience and expertise.
"There's bullet-proof glazing, which could be as little as $500 to $600 per window," he said. "And then there's bullet-proof glass, which could be $5,000 to $10,000 per window for physical replacement of the glass." The cost to bulletproof the glass at Trump Tower would depend on the size of the windows.
Shopping bag checks and metal detectors are already part of the experience of visiting Trump Tower NYC. In fact, a 19-year-old college student was arrested in December after allegedly trying to bring weapons into the tower, reported CBS New York. Although we don't know how much has been spent on metal detectors in Trump Tower so far, Mandel said they can range from $15,000 to $25,000, depending on the equipment.
Then there's the cost of a video surveillance system. "A facility like that ... you're probably talking about 75 to 100 cameras for full protection," said Mandel. You're probably going to have about $100,000 invested in cameras, some of which may already be in place within the building, he added.
Still, "even if they had existing cameras in Trump Tower — as I've seen in the past with some of our other clients — typically when the Secret Service gets involved, they're going to set up their own temporary systems or potentially permanent systems," said Mandel.
Over time, it's possible a security system might need to be repaired or updated. So, it would require maintenance and preventative measures, said John Nowak of VTI Security. That cost "could be anywhere from — on an annual basis — 15 to 20 percent of the investment cost," he said.
Although the cost of these systems and equipment might seem high, the price is likely nothing compared to how much it typically costs to hire the personnel who will oversee and maintain these systems.
"What I typically find is the equipment is the most inexpensive component — it's the labor that has to manage and maintain these systems," said Mandel. "When you're dealing with a video system, you don't need as much labor. But when you start getting to a metal detecting system, a bag screening system, you need physical personnel to actually run those systems."
So when it comes to labor costs, he estimates a scenario like Trump Tower might cost up to several hundred thousand dollars a month on security.
"It's not just like protecting a school or a facility or a town hall — you're protecting the [president] here," said Mandel. "I know from dealing with the Secret Service on other projects, the Secret Service personnel, the transportation, the labor rates — it's going to far outweigh the installation of some cameras, metal detectors and whatnot."
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Trump Tower Security’s Impact on Local Businesses
The area around Trump Tower NYC sports high-speed crash barriers and security, including security checkpoints for shoppers of nearby businesses, according to the New York Times. This increased security has affected some nearby businesses.
In a survey of 50 businesses surrounding Trump Tower at that time, 80 percent reported losing business due to the impact on foot traffic, reported CNN Money in December. And half of those respondents called the impact "severe." Recently, high-end jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co. experienced a dip in sales partly due to the Trump Tower traffic and security. The company recently released this statement:
"In the Americas, both total sales of $483 million and comparable store sales were 4 percent below the prior year ... Management attributed the lower sales to local customer spending, with a decline in U.S. sales exacerbated by a 14 percent decline at the company's flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York, which we attribute at least partly to post-election traffic disruptions."
However, speaking to GOBankingRates.com in January, reps for HANIA by Anya Cole and Willie Degel, CEO and founder of Uncle Jack's Steakhouse — both of which have storefronts on 56th Street — reported the problems were being resolved. Though Degel said the former changes affected his customers by "inconveniencing them and scaring them away" from the chaos, he has a more optimistic view of the future.
"Maybe having the 'White House North' down the block can be beneficial to my business by having more tourists coming to see it and passing by — possibly stopping by," he said.
The Secret Service — and other federal and local agencies — have experience with protecting the president as he travels, whether it's for business or for vacation. And although the costs might appear expensive, Haun points out these agencies have budgets that they work within.
At the end of the day, "wherever the president goes, the level of security is going to be whatever is necessary to protect him," he said. "And that can go up and down, depending on the threat, depending upon the location."
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Sydney Champion contributed to the reporting for this article.