Trump tower fated not to rise in Indonesian isle of the gods

Thousands of people flock daily to the centuries-old, sacred Hindu temple at Tanah Lot, a rock formation that juts into the Indian Ocean. An island at high tide and flanked by sheer cliffs, it's among Bali's most photographed sites, particularly for the mesmerizing sunsets that transform the waters into a shimmering orange vista.

It's getting a new neighbor, described as "Trump International Hotel and Tower" in the Trump Organization's promotions for what will be its first resort in Asia. They promise breathtaking views, a super-sized golf course overlooking the temple and an "enchanting and unrivaled getaway from the current luxury hotels" in Bali. For those weary of mere five-star opulence, it offers six.

Nothing that one might consider a tower is going to fly on Bali, where height restrictions prohibit structures higher than the island's plentiful coconut palms — about 15 meters (49 feet).

Locals welcome new investment in the popular Indonesian resort island but are determined to preserve their unique traditions. Neighbors are resisting efforts to expand the Trump site.

And if a tower ever starts rising, local authorities are ready to flatten it.

"If suddenly they build an unapproved tower, of course we will stop them and demolish it," said Ida Bagus Wiratmaja, head of the district's development and planning agency. "There are special rules for the temple and the temple area."

Tanah Lot and other temples dotting the cliffs are more than a lure for tourists. They're the heart of life in the surrounding Beraban village, where tradition and spirituality are woven into daily living. The Balinese are proud that their island's Hindu culture has flourished for centuries even as later arrivals — Islam and Christianity — supplanted it elsewhere in the Indonesian archipelago.

The height restriction is the key regulation the Trump hotel must contend with, since the 100 hectares (250 acres) where it will rise is already occupied by a golf course and aging resort owned by President Donald Trump's Indonesian business partner Hary Tanoesoedibjo, who also harbors presidential ambitions.

At a cost of about $300 million, Tanoesoedibjo's conglomerate MNC will redevelop the site. The Trump Organization will manage the new property under an agreement made with MNC in 2015. That was before Trump was elected, so it does not conflict with his pledge not to make new business deals as president.

The two groups are also working together near the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, to build a super-luxury "Trump Community" in a 3,000-hectare (7,413-acre) mini-city alongside a national park that is one of the area's last refuges for endangered species.

MNC and the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment on the Bali project. MNC in March reportedly promised to respect height restrictions and says it is still designing the new resort despite plans to shutter the existing one around the middle of the year. Still, the Trump Organization continued to bill the project as a hotel and tower as recently as Thursday.

MNC will also have to work around a temple on the site, leaving it completely undisturbed.

"Whatever they build should not deviate from our Hindu culture because it is the soul of the Balinese people," said Made Rumawa, the religious leader of Beraban.

"As a priest, I insist they comply with the rules because they have been set out clearly," said Rumawa, a towering man clad in white from head to toe. "So, whoever comes, whatever their intention, do not be blind and walk in the darkness."

Plans to expand the land available to the resort, in part to accommodate a larger golf course, are struggling.

Villagers said MNC has had an offer on the table since 2015 to buy adjacent land, which is mostly used for growing rice and other crops. Wayan Surata, a former resort worker who helped MNC compile a list of landowners several years ago, said about 80 percent of the owners have rejected it.

Ketut Sukarjaya, who works at the old resort and is close to retirement, said land belonging to him and his brother has been in their family for several generations and they had no financial need to sell it.

Surata said he was one of the few who has agreed to sell. Pointing to a verdant stretch of land bordering the resort, he said he sold with a "heavy heart" because he urgently needed money for a garment business he had started.

MNC's offer of 150 million rupiah ($11,290) per a Balinese measure of land that is equal to about 100 square meters (1,076 square feet) is far below what villagers believe is fair given the prime location, Surata said. Most think it's worth three to seven times that.

Selling is also a fraught issue because the island's farmland is gradually being depleted, increasing a lopsided reliance on tourism. In Beraban, about 40 percent of arable land already is being used for housing and tourism.

"We are optimistic it will be more difficult to buy land because the people are now more aware that land cannot be created," said Made Sumawa, the village's stern-faced guardian of custom and tradition. "The investors wanted to expand the area but after they learned of the people's character here, they realized it's difficult to buy the land from them."


Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia contributed to this report.


Follow Wright at