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Stephen Ross' financial empire built on fancy condos, gyms and coffee shops

Equinox customers threaten boycott

Stephen Ross, whose Friday fundraiser for Donald Trump has stirred controversy, is more than a mere political donor. The billionaire real estate developer calls himself a longtime friend of the president, who has returned the sentiment.

Before heading to the event in the affluent Long Island, New York, enclave known as the Hamptons, Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that Ross is "a great friend of mine," adding that "he likes me, he respects me."

The two first got to know each other in New York City real estate circles four decades ago, and Ross has a financial interest in Trump Tower. He has donated to numerous Republicans and Democrats over the years, federal filings show, although Ross doesn't appear to have previously donated directly to Mr. Trump. 

The property mogul is worth $7.7 billion, Forbes estimates. Here's a look at where that fortune comes from.

He owns The Related Companies, a major real estate development firm

Ross started Related in 1972 after being fired from a job at Bear Stearns. The company today owns or manages some $50 billion worth of property and is the driving force behind Manhattan's Hudson Yards, a luxury development that has alternately been praised for revitalizing western Manhattan and bashed as a tax-guzzling boondoggle for the rich. The project is "the largest private real estate development in the history of the United States," according to Related.

Long before he moved into luxury developments, Ross—who has a law degree from Wayne State University—worked in affordable housing. He financed affordable buildings by selling the projects' tax shelters to wealthy investors, he once told The Real Deal.

Ross has invested in more than 30 sports, entertainment and food companies

Through Related, Ross owns Equinox, a line of luxury gyms, as well as SoulCycle, Blink Fitness and Pure Yoga. Through a private equity fund, he has stakes in David Chang's Momofuku restaurant chain; Outstanding Foods, which makes plant-based meats; &pizza; and Bluestone Lane, an Australian coffee chain.

He's connected to one of Donald Trump's biggest lenders

Related owns a 5% stake in Ladder Capital., a commercial mortgage firm that has lent Mr. Trump between $110 million and $150 million since 2012. Included in that debt is at least $50 million he owes on a 2012 mortgage on Trump Tower in New York City, the Associated Press reports. Related made a bid to take over Ladder last year but was  rebuffed.

He owns the Miami Dolphins (and wants them to stand during the national anthem)

Ross said he was initially supportive of football players who kneeled during the national anthem—a form of protest that former 49ers Colin Kaepernick started in 2016 to draw attention to police abuse of African-Americans. When it comes to expressing displeasure, "It's America and people should be able to really speak about their choices," Ross told the New York Daily News last year.

But Mr. Trump's loud objections to the protests changed his mind. Once Mr. Trump started painting the kneeling players as disrespectful of the U.S. military, "then I was against kneeling," Ross told the newspaper.

He owns at least five homes

Ross is hosting the fundraiser for Mr. Trump at his bayside mansion in Southampton, a tony enclave near the eastern end of Long Island that's a favorite summering spot for uber-wealthy New Yorkers. But the 9,100-square-foot manor is just one of five properties Ross owns. 

According to The Real Deal, Ross also has a $7 million condo in downtown Manhattan, a pad in the West Village worth about $5 million (but which he obtained for free from his company) and a penthouse in New York's Time Warner Center. Ross is currently selling that penthouse for $75 million as he trades up to a condo in Related's Hudson Yards. He also owns an oceanfront mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, which he purchased four years ago for a reported $32 million.

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