By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A showdown between New York City and Donald Trump over one of the most potent symbols of Trump's candidacy, the glitzy atrium of Trump Tower, intensified on Wednesday as the mayor's office criticized his closing of the tower's public space for campaign events.
Lined with pink marble and indoor waterfalls and a popular tourist attraction, the atrium has become a favorite event backdrop for Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the U.S. presidency, who frequently boasts to voters of his wealthy lifestyle and his success as a building developer.
City officials are now investigating whether Trump's using the atrium for private campaign events without permission is in breach of a long-standing agreement between Trump and the city's planners. Trump had agreed to maintain it as a public space as a zoning concession when the tower was built.
A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, weighed in on Wednesday to register City Hall's displeasure, which may yet force Trump to find an alternative setting for his events for the five months remaining before the November presidential election.
"Despite what he may think, the rules and laws of this city apply to everybody, including Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump should honor his agreement with the city to keep the space open to the public," Austin Finan, the spokesman, said in a statement.
In order to build his flagship Fifth Avenue skyscraper taller than zoning rules would have otherwise allowed, including the penthouse where Trump lives, Trump agreed to keep the atrium open to the public from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.
The atrium, opened in 1983, is one of scores of "privately owned public spaces" across the city, an effort to balance the wishes of developers to build taller while preserving pockets of space for New Yorkers in crowded neighborhoods.
Since launching his campaign by descending an escalator into the atrium last June, Trump has held at least half a dozen campaign events where Reuters reporters have seen his security staff prevent anyone but a few pre-approved journalists from entering parts or all of the atrium.
City officials, whose investigation was first reported by Reuters on Tuesday, say they have no evidence of Trump seeking or getting permission to close the space for a private event, which is allowed to happen up to four times a year.
Michael Cohen, an executive vice president for the Trump Organization, said on Tuesday he could neither confirm nor deny if there had been a violation of the agreement while his staff tried to locate the paperwork. He did not respond to questions on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Lucas Jackson, Carlo Allegri and Brendan McDermid; Editing by Leslie Adler)