The towering challenge of protecting the Trumps in New York

JUDY WOODRUFF: With just a couple days left until the inauguration, much of the nation’s attention is on president-elect Trump’s move into the White House.

But Midtown Manhattan residents are still focusing on the gold skyscraper of Trump Tower, which will continue to be a home for the Trump family.

Producer Rhana Natour looks at the unprecedented challenges of securing that residence and the financial fallout.

RHANA NATOUR: This is the new reality along the storied Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, dogs, chains, and intense security.

The president-elect has used Trump Tower as a base for transition meetings since the election, and while he will relocate to the White House after the inaugural, his wife, Melania, and 10-year-old son Barron plan to stay in Trump Tower through the end of the school year.

Evy Poumpouras is a former Secret Service agent. For 12 years, she was part of the presidential detail for Presidents Obama, Clinton and both Bushes.

We are seeing delivery truck after delivery truck being searched in and out. What is happening here?

EVY POUMPOURAS, Former Secret Service Agent: So, we want to control what’s coming into the area of Trump Tower.

And one of the biggest issues are large vehicles that can actually have large amounts of an explosive. And a truck would be a perfect thing, a perfect IED, a vehicle device, to use.

So, what they will do is, you will typically have the vehicle stopped. They will search the vehicle, make sure there’s nothing inside the vehicle, underneath the vehicle, make sure it’s clean.

RHANA NATOUR: Trump Tower stretches 57 stories, with 26 floors of offices, three retail stores and hundreds of tenants. It is also surrounded by other skyscrapers, compounding the security challenge.

EVY POUMPOURAS: Right now, planes aren’t allowed to fly over Trump Tower, same thing that happens over at the White House. But then you have that variable. He’s up top. He’s high on the floor. Planes are a concern.

RHANA NATOUR: And, as technology evolves, there are ever greater risks.

EVY POUMPOURAS: Drones. Can somebody use a drone, not just to go up there and, you know what, I want to see the future president? You can actually strap explosives, weapons to those drones, fly them up, and then cause harm in that way.

And then also even cyber-security, radiation, contamination in the air, chemical — any type of chemical airborne attack, that’s also an issue. The tower itself, one of the things we look at is what we call the HVAC system, which is where the air intake system is. That’s super dangerous as well.

RHANA NATOUR: While the Secret Service is working on threats from within the tower, the New York Police Department guards the exterior and directs traffic in the four-block radius where the vehicles are being limited.

The protective measures are causing a dramatic slowdown in business here, where the rents are among the highest in the world.

Tiffany and Company reporting this week that its Fifth Avenue store dropped 14 percent at the end of 2016, in part due to the traffic disruption.

Robert Smith runs operations for Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse, which has developed a faithful following for years on West 56th Street, within view of Trump Tower. The owner was so excited by the Trump win that he named menu items after him.

ROBERT SMITH, Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse: We were down 20 percent right off the bat, right after the election. Once the security came in, barricades went up. People weren’t allowed to walk into the restaurant or even near the block.

RHANA NATOUR: What have you been hearing from your regular customers?

ROBERT SMITH: Obviously, my regular clientele isn’t coming in as often as they used to. I had bar clientele at lunch that would come every day, but that don’t.

We have a lot of tourists that come, very tourist-central-located neighborhood. And a lot of them don’t even want to get anywhere near barricades and dogs and giant police bomb trucks. And it doesn’t make anybody want to come near the place.

RHANA NATOUR: A short distance away, on Sixth Avenue, Jimmie Tarzy at Allen M. Jewelers says he has been losing 30 to 50 percent on any given week. He worries about what will happen to business if Trump returns to his penthouse residence each weekend.

JIMMY TARZY, Allen M. Jewelers: You have to take precautionary measures. And I can understand that. I really do. But being the president, or president-elect, you have to say to yourself, you’re supposed to do for the people. Go live in Washington.

RHANA NATOUR: Some are calling Trump Tower White House North. Exactly how security will be transformed here is still a work in progress.

At a New York City Council meeting last week, questions on how to prepare and who should pay went unanswered by NYPD officials.

MAN: Does the Secret Service have the right to close down a street on its own?

MAN: I’m not sure.

MAN: If the NYPD were to decline to provide service in and around Trump Tower because of cost or lack of reimbursement or whatever, what would happen then?

MAN: I’m unable to answer that question.

WOMAN: We have to have some idea of how much is it going to cost, because, right now, we are just spending with an unlimited credit, really, and hoping that maybe the federal government will pay, maybe not.

RHANA NATOUR: The NYPD estimates that, for every day the president resides in Trump Tower, it costs the city $500,000. So far, Congress has agreed to reimburse New York City $7 million for the cost of providing NYPD security to Trump Tower and the surrounding area.

This is far less, however, than the $35 million the city initially requested.

Councilman Dan Garodnick, who represents the Trump Tower neighborhood, objects.

DAN GARODNICK, (D) New York City Council: Why is New York City bearing the cost of security for the president-elect? We have some very significant businesses on Fifth Avenue that employ hundreds of New Yorkers each. And we want to make sure that these jobs and these businesses do not become a casualty of the Trump presidency here.

RHANA NATOUR: It’s a balancing act between keeping the legendary business district humming and protecting the first family living at the heart of it.

In New York City, I’m Rhana Natour for the PBS NewsHour.