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The Globe and Mail

Atlantic City boarding house sells for fraction of what Trump once offered

Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino towers over Vera Coking’s decrepit three-storey boarding house in Atlantic City, N.J.

Mel Evans/Associated Press

She once called Donald Trump "a maggot, a cockroach and a crumb." This week, he remembered her as "an impossible person."

The woman who became a folk hero for resisting decades-long efforts by big-name developers like Mr. Trump to displace her Atlantic City boardinghouse is now 86 and, at last, has sold.

The 29-room property she and her husband bought for $20,000 in 1961 and fought to hold onto went at auction Thursday afternoon for $530,000 (U.S) plus 10 per cent commission, said Joshua Olshin of AuctionAdvisors, which handled the sale. Bidding started at $199,000, priced to sell in Atlantic City's depressed real estate market.

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The now-vacant property had been listed for $995,000 since September. The winning bidder is a local real estate person who wishes to remain anonymous, Mr. Olshin said.

Vera Coking has moved to California to be near her family. Her long-running saga has paralleled the rise and fall of Atlantic City's real estate fortunes. The decision to auction the property was made by Ms. Coking's family after they could not find a buyer, said Oren Klein of AuctionAdvisors, which is handling the sale.

The portrait of Ms. Coking as a principled holdout is wrong, Mr.  Trump said, asserting that she had been willing to sell but that they could never agree on a price.

"She could have lived happily ever after in Palm Beach, Florida; instead, she was an impossible person to deal with," Mr. Trump told The Associated Press this week. In addition to millions of dollars, he said, he had offered Ms. Coking housing for the rest of her life in one of his properties.

The famously stubborn Mr. Trump laughed off a question as to whether he would bid on Ms. Coking's home — just to have the last word.

The road to the auction block has been circuitous. Ms. Coking first took on Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione in the 1970s, who was reportedly so angered by her refusal to sell that he started building his casino above and around her property.

Mr. Trump, who bought Mr. Guccione's unfinished project, also tried to buy Ms.  Coking's building to tear it down and use the land for his Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Ms. Coking battled with Mr. Trump and prevailed in a 1998 state Supreme Court case that blocked attempts by the state to use eminent domain to condemn the property.

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Ms. Coking's one-woman battle was closely followed in the press and by the people of Atlantic City, where she and her property, sitting defiantly in the shadow of the Trump casino, have been a familiar sight for decades.

The modest, three-story clapboard structure is a block from the famous Atlantic City boardwalk and adjacent to the casinos, that like Trump's, have sought to expand their parking facilities or outdoor footprint.

AuctionAdvisors had stressed the boardinghouse's location just steps from a planned Bass Pro shop and adjacent to an outlet mall that the city advertises as a main attraction. Mr.  Klein and his associates say that they are confident that Atlantic City will bounce back and that the Coking property is a great buy in one of the last affordable beachfront towns in New Jersey.

Atlantic City's real estate market and casino businesses have faltered amid increased competition in nearby states. Trump Plaza may close in September, although Mr. Trump himself is largely divested.

Ms. Coking's grandson, Ed Casey, previously told the Press of Atlantic City that it wasn't true his grandmother had once been offered millions. He said she wasn't opposed to selling but was proud to live in and fight for her longtime home.

Messages left at a California listing for Mr. Casey were not returned, and Mr. Klein said the family had told him they no longer wished to speak publicly about the matter. Information about Ms. Coking's health wasn't available.

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But back in the day, Ms. Coking wasn't afraid to throw a zinger. At the height of their battle in 1998, the 70-year-old Ms. Coking said of Mr. Trump to the New York Daily News: "A maggot, a cockroach and a crumb, that's what he is.

"If Trump's thinking I'm gonna die tomorrow, he's having himself a pipe dream," she said then. "I'm gonna be here for a long, long time. I'll stay just to see he's not getting my house. We'll be going to his funeral, you can count on that."

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