It bounced back quickly, gathering a dozen hotels between Boston and Washington. After an argument with his cousins, Mr. Chang traveled to Natchez, Mississippi, in an unsuccessful attempt to open a river casino. When he filed for bankruptcy a second time, in 1996, he had $ 300 in his pocket and $ 27.7 million in debt, according to court records.
“He fell in love with every case that came across his desk,” said Alan M. Grochal, a Baltimore lawyer who worked for Mr. Chang at the time. “Lots of dead dog losers. He had incredible debt resulting from so many transactions. ”
Within months, Mr. Chang was back in business, now in New York City, where he fought to build a Howard Johnson in Flushing and what has become a Comfort Inn at Kennedy Airport. He was quickly strapped for cash when he met a wealthy Chinatown clothing factory owner John Lam, who became his financial partner for seven years.
Mr. Lam eventually broke up and started his own business, and is now a rival. Chang now owns 31 hotels across the country, including 12 of the 37 he built in New York. Two more are in Anchorage, Alaska, a stopover during his frequent trips to China. “I thought to myself if I was to stop in Alaska,” he said, “I should own hotels there. “
Mr. Chang’s hotels have been popular with budget travelers, but not with New York City community councils or construction and hospitality workers’ unions. Since December 2006, his construction company, Tritel, has accumulated 207 serious construction violations, of which 47 remain unresolved. Community Board 7 in the Bronx often found him unresponsive when work at a hotel near Fordham University weakened the foundation of a nearby house, flooding the basement.
“Their whole approach to the community was very contemptuous,” said Gregory Faulkner, chairman of the community board.
Some construction unions clashed with Chang in 2006, when he was building three hotels on the West Side with non-union contractors. After a pitched battle on the streets, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo opened an investigation into allegations that one of Mr. Chang’s contractors was paying immigrant workers substandard wages and using a system to two levels which offered a higher salary to young Irish workers than to Brazilians. from Newark.