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What’s in a number? At Trump tower in Vancouver, 63 turns into 69 storeys

Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday January 20, 2017.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Developer Joo Kim Tiah wants to clear the air on the newly opened Trump condo-hotel tower in Vancouver.

He starts by dissecting the building's height, and explains what prompted him to omit certain numbers from the elevator buttons inside the second-tallest building in Vancouver.

While leaving off unlucky 13 is a no-brainer for builders, Mr. Tiah omitted an additional seven floor numbers.

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"Four at the end is bad. Four in front is okay," said Mr. Tiah, chief executive officer of Malaysia-based TA Global Berhad, the developer and owner of Trump International Hotel and Tower Vancouver.

Also: Success of Trump Tower Vancouver has given developer 'credibility'

The 37-year-old CEO, who welcomed two of U.S. President Donald Trump's sons to the condo-hotel project's grand opening in February, acknowledges the influence of superstition. "Fortysomething is okay but not something-four. We skipped the fours at the end because that's not good in Chinese," Mr. Tiah said in an interview.

Four, when pronounced in the Mandarin or Cantonese dialects, is considered unlucky because it is a homophone of the word for death. Eight, however, is deemed a lucky number in Chinese culture since it sounds like wealth or prosperity.

When the Trump-branded building officially opened in downtown Vancouver on Feb. 28, the elevator panels excluded eight buttons – missing are 4, 13, 14, 24, 34, 44, 54 and 64.

TA Global's project had been approved and was already under construction by the time the City of Vancouver began clamping down on missing floor numbers in the fall of 2015. "Vancouver doesn't allow that now – you have to keep the fours, for the new buildings at least," said Mr. Tiah, who is fluent in English and Malay, and speaks a smattering of Cantonese.

The manager for the 147-room hotel is the Trump Organization while TA Global, co-founded by Mr. Tiah's parents in Malaysia, owns the building along Vancouver's bustling West Georgia Street.

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The structure had originally been billed as 63 storeys, counting two mechanical floors. Counting up from the ground level, which is the standard tallying method, the building rings in at 63 actual storeys.

By contrast, the Trump Organization has its own strange logic, with marketing materials claiming the new tower is 69 storeys. Critics describe that number as an "alternative fact" because the higher figure adds in the underground floors, which are mostly for parking.

In November, The New York Times reported that the Trump Organization has an affinity for "creative math" to exaggerate the number of storeys. For instance in New York, the 58-storey Trump Tower turned into a 68-storey building in marketing materials while the 70-storey Trump World Tower stretched into 90 storeys.

That type of Trump-style math has now arrived in Vancouver. In reality, the Shangri-La condo-hotel across the street is taller than the the twisting Trump tower. The Shangri-La lists itself as having "62 floors" (although elevator-button numbers 4 and 13 are missing).

In the psychological marketing game to one-up its rival, the newcomer's 69-storey hype is crafted for bragging rights in Vancouver. But condo marketer Bob Rennie tracks building heights in the city, and he ranks the Shangri-La at No. 1 at 200.9 metres in height versus the Trump tower at 187.8 metres.

Beyond numerology, Mr. Tiah emphasizes that there are high stakes in the competitive hospitality business.

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He is cognizant of how the Trump brand has been derided by critics, including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. But all 214 Vancouver condo units that were marketed sold by early 2016, and Mr. Tiah is optimistic that the hotel portion will survive the controversy surrounding the U.S. President and thrive.

"There will be a certain percentage who won't come. On the other side, there will be a lot people who will want to come. The people in the middle will have an open mind and they just want to experience the best," said Mr. Tiah, who is also president of Holborn Group, which jointly developed Trump tower with TA Global.

"Our goal is not to worry about what Trump says politically here and there, and how it's going to affect our guests. Our focus is to give everyone who comes in the building the best experience and the best service. So, I think that is going to win people over."

Mr. Tiah noted he has become friends with Donald Trump Jr. and they have common bonds.

"We're both second-generation people," Mr. Tiah said. "There are a lot of high expectations. We understand growing up in that environment, what it's like. When you are a rich kid, a lot of people judge you and think you're spoiled and born with a silver spoon and you're not hard working. But we both want to make our families proud and continue the family legacy and we work very hard."

It's no coincidence that one of the tenants within the new tower is a high-end Chinese restaurant called Mott 32. Mr. Tiah expects many of the hotel guests will be visitors from China, though he is counting on a wide range of well-heeled tourists from countries around the world.

"Vancouver is a city that is really exposed to good Chinese food," he said. "But to be successful in Vancouver, you can't just focus on one segment of the market."

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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