New York probing Trump's closing of Trump Tower atrium for campaign events

(This May 31 story corrects atrium’s opening times in sixth paragraph: “between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.” instead of “between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.”)

A doorman stands as people walk past the Trump Tower in New York, U.S., May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City is investigating Donald Trump’s practice of closing down the public atrium in Trump Tower for presidential campaign events that are off limits to the public.

In order to add more floors than zoning rules would otherwise allow, Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, agreed to create a two-story public atrium on the ground and lower floors of the building, which opened in 1983 on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

But security staff wearing Trump badges spent several hours shooing away a growing crowd of New Yorkers and tourists from the doors on Tuesday morning after Trump decided to hold a news conference in the atrium to discuss his fundraising for veterans groups.

“Department of Buildings inspectors will be investigating the allegations that the (public atrium) was closed contrary to the building owner’s agreement with the city,” Joe Soldevere, a department spokesman, told Reuters on Tuesday.

There are scores of “privately owned public spaces,” or POPS, throughout New York City, intended as a trade-off between developers who want to build taller and preserving space for the public in the city’s densest neighborhoods.

In the case of Trump Tower, the 6,000-square-foot public atrium, which is lined with pink marble, must be open to the public between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. every day, a fact advertised in large gold letters over the building’s Fifth Avenue entrance.

As with other such spaces, it can be closed up to four times a year for a private event after permission from city officials.

Trump has held several events in the public areas of Trump Tower since launching his campaign in the atrium there last June.

Officials at the Department of City Planning, which grants permission to close a POPS for an event, and the Department of Buildings, which investigates violations, said they had no record of Trump ever seeking or being granted permission to shut out the public for a campaign event.

The investigation was prompted by media reports of the news conference.

Inspectors will seek evidence that the public was denied access without the city’s permission, including testimony from anyone turned away. Violations carry a $4,000 fine.

Michael Cohen, an executive vice president for the Trump Organization, said his staff was trying to locate the text of the agreement with the city, and could not immediately confirm or deny the suggestion that closing the atrium was a violation.

Trump lives in a penthouse in the tower with his family and has his main office there.

He previously battled with the city over the space, most recently after he replaced a bench there with a kiosk selling Trump merchandise. A city judge ruled the kiosk violated Trump’s agreement with the city, and Trump agreed to removed the kiosk in January and pay a $4,000 fine.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Peter Cooney