The protest was small by New York City standards -- about 35 people standing on the corner of Spring and Varick streets, just west of the touristy part of Soho. Their presence last Wednesday was timed to coincide with the appearance of Donald Trump at a news conference to announce that unit sales of his Trump Soho Hotel Condominium had begun.

I didn't stay outside long enough to see if Trump literally thumbed his nose at protestors as he stepped out of his limo at the hotel site, but once he was in front of reporters he did so figuratively. Claiming that the publicity raised by protests had created interest in the units, he thanked the protestors. He said he had already received more than 300 applications for the 400 units. (The 46-story tower has not yet reached a third of its anticipated height.)

The scenes both inside and out contained a jumble of emblematic issues. Either a large-scale developer was being insensitive to community sentiment about aesthetic, environmental and infrastructure concerns, or bold entrepreneurs, trying to create jobs and wealth, were being harassed by those who would stand in the way of progress.

I don't believe that the debate about this particular building will linger long in people's memories, but the occasion was historic nonetheless.

Last Wednesday was the day that the faint, micron-thin dotted line that separates the businesses of hospitality, real estate and high finance finally disappeared completely.

As of late, condo sales have been part of the cost of doing business to build or revamp a hotel. If a portion of a hotel is built as (or converted to) condos, investors can reduce their financial risk by quickly recouping a good chunk of their initial outlay from unit sales of the residential portion.

There are prior examples of all-condo hotels, but Trump's is the first I'm aware of in which creating a hotel became the cost of doing real estate development, a condition for the right to build his residential condos. Devising a hotel component was the only way The Donald could get a green light from the city's Department of Buildings.

The area in which Trump is building is zoned nonresidential. To a less creative developer, this would be a deal breaker. But Trump and his partners snapped up warehouse district land and are building condos that start at $3,000 per square foot, a dizzying price even in a city where the median price for a two-bedroom apartment is already more than $1 million.

There are restrictions. Buyers must sign paper saying they will live in their condo no more than 120 days a year and never more than 29 days in any 36-day period. On other days, their condos are available for hotel guests.

For the developers, it's exactly as lucrative as if they had exclusive rights to sell residential condos in a nonresidential area, with the added benefit of collecting hotel management fees over time.

I believe Trump when he says he already has 300 prospective buyers, and if he isn't stopped by the lawsuits filed by a neighborhood alliance, I'd be surprised if he doesn't sell out before the building is completed.

Protestors charge that the hotel aspect of the deal is a sham, that many prospective buyers fully intend to live there year round and are wealthy enough that fines for violating zoning laws will seem trivial.

But if history is an indicator, opposition will fade quickly if the hotel opens.

A friend of mine, an artist and former resident of Soho (he bought in 1985 at $160 per square foot), moved to Brooklyn last year in part because the character of Soho had morphed from an artists colony to an upscale mall. Though he seemed shocked at the scale of the new Trump building, he also recalled an outcry from neighbors when plans for the 17-story Soho Grand Hotel were announced in the mid-'90s.

The dissent didn't last all that long, he recalls. "Once it was up, everyone forgot about it. It became just a good place to get a cab."

Trump may be missing an opportunity to make peace with his neighbors. If he truly is calling a residence a hotel, then he can just as easily call a hotel a 46-story cabstand.

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