The Atlantic City mayor, a proponent of the implosion due to the safety issues, nonetheless said Trump Plaza's demise was bittersweet

By Diane Herbst
February 17, 2021 04:27 PM

The Trump Plaza hotel and casino, a once-glittering destination on the Atlantic City boardwalk in New Jersey, came crashing down in seconds on Wednesday morning after a planned implosion witnessed by scores of cheering spectators.

"As you heard the dynamite, the explosives go off, it just sent chills," Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small, who stood on a nearby pier to watch the collapse, tells PEOPLE. 

Donald Trump's former casino — which opened in 1984 and operated for 30 years as one of the businesses that defined Trump's rise and fall in real estate and hospitality — was home to numerous boxing world title fights before its fortunes soured.

Currently owned by billionaire investor Carl Icahn after it left bankruptcy court in 2016, the property fell into such disrepair that chunks of concrete and metal fell when brisk winds sweep through, Small previously told PEOPLE

Icahn filed to demolition it last year.

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small
| Credit: Michael Candelori/Shutterstoc
The Trump Plaza demolition
| Credit: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty

Around 9 a.m. Wednesday, after the dynamite ignited, the building came down within 20 seconds, leaving a huge dust cloud over the beach and boardwalk, according to the Associated Press

Small, a proponent of the implosion due to the safety issues, said the Plaza's demise was bittersweet.

"[The casino] meant a lot to so many people," he says. "People made a livelihood there, it provided a lot of jobs and people were able to purchase homes. And during its heyday, all the big time fights, the Mike Tyson fights, were there."

Growing up, Small, 46, attended WrestleMania IV and V at Trump Plaza.

Trump Plaza
| Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty
The Trump Plaza demolition
| Credit: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Bernie Dillon, the events manager for the casino from 1984 to 1991, told the AP that celebrities used to flock to Trump Plaza for the big fights.

"The way we put Trump Plaza and the city of Atlantic City on the map for the whole world was really incredible," Dillon said. "Everyone from Hulk Hogan to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it was the whole gamut of personalities. One night before a Tyson fight I stopped dead in my tracks and looked about four rows in as the place was filling up, and there were two guys leaning in close and having a private conversation: Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty."

"It was like that a lot: You had Madonna and Sean Penn walking in, Barbra Streisand and Don Johnson, Muhammad Ali would be there, Oprah sitting with Donald ringside," he told the AP. "It was a special time. I'm sorry to see it go."

The Trump Plaza demolition
| Credit: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty
The Trump Plaza demolition
| Credit: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty

The demolition was originally scheduled for Jan. 29 as a fundraising event for The Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City, with the top bidder winning the right to push the button to implode the structure. 

But Icahn, the building's owner, wouldn't allow the auction to proceed due to safety concerns, says Small. Instead, the billionaire donated $175,000 -— the top auction bid at the time — to the Boy & Girls Club of A.C. 

Small, who doesn't know what Icahn has planned for the spot, says good riddance to the last of Trump's imprint on the city. 

"Donald Trump hurt a lot of people, small businesses in Atlantic City and made a mockery of it on a national stage," Small says. "He basically said that he made a lot of money in Atlantic City and got out while he could and used the bankruptcy laws to his advantage. He left a lot of people hanging."

The demolition marks Trump's final exit from Atlantic City, where he once owned three casinos before a series of well-documented business problems including mounting debt and repeated bankruptcies.