WASHINGTON — The symbolism was obvious: A rich presidential candidate turns a mothballed government relic into a palatial hotel steps away from the White House. But for Donald Trump, not one for subtlety, even that wasn’t enough. It had to be “one of the great hotels of the world.”

When Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., hosts its soft opening Monday, it will cap the transformation of a century-old post office building into one of Washington’s most expensive and ostentatious new hotels – and a monument to Trump.

But its main draw, the gilded name out front, might also be its biggest obstacle. What began as merely a prominent real estate project has morphed into a political landmark, where polarizing ties to the blustery mogul could influence its business through November and beyond.

“If he remains high-profile and a thorn in the side of the political elite, and on television the way he has been, I think that’s a problem,” said David Loeb, managing director at the investment giant Robert W. Baird & Co. “A lot of this is about the Trump brand and what the Trump brand represents, and when you damage that it’s hard to go back.”

Trump has pointed to the project as a symbol of his ability to lead a global superpower. And, indeed, the hotel reflects many of the contradictions at the heart of Trump’s campaign: a 1 percenter fortress built alongside a populist campaign by a self-described billionaire, whose blue-collar rallygoers couldn’t afford a spoon of wine at his newest high-class masterwork.

While Trump was shouting across middle America that Mexicans were drug-smuggling rapists, Hispanic men were building his luxury hotel for him on one of the national capital’s ritziest blocks.


Trump’s campaign comments about Mexican immigrants drew a rebuke from Democratic Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, set off angry sidewalk protests and prompted the exodus of celebrity chefs José Andrés and Geoffrey Zakarian, whom the Trumps have since sued.

The $212 million ultraluxury hotel will boast many of Trump’s signature extravagances: $1,000-a-night rooms, gold-encrusted bathrooms and Washington’s largest suite – called, of course, the Trump Townhouse. A crystal-chandelier bar in the nine-story atrium will serve wine by the spoon and offer daily champagne saberings, in which bottles are opened by sword.

Pedestrians cross Pennsylvania Avenue, across the street from the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

Pedestrians cross Pennsylvania Avenue, across the street from the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

The 263-room giant’s formal grand opening is scheduled for next month, just days before the election. But its most pivotal moment likely won’t come until Inauguration Day, when either a newly elected President Trump parades past the gleaming Pennsylvania Avenue icon of his conquest – or a President Hillary Clinton strides by the newest showpiece of her vanquished foe’s empire. During inauguration weekend, a night in the Trump Townhouse costs $100,000, with a five-night minimum.

“This building is a national treasure,” said Ivanka Trump, Trump’s daughter and a company executive leading the project. “It is a great honor and privilege to begin an exciting new chapter in its storied history after having transformed it into one of the finest hotels in the country.”

Rooms start at an average of $895 a night, a company spokesperson said, pricier even than the Four Seasons in Georgetown – some of the highest rates in the city, and critics have charged that the rates could hurt the hotel’s chances to attract enough guests and stay afloat.

Those price tags are far loftier than even the Trumps projected. When a Washington Post columnist calculated in 2012 that the hotel would need to charge $750 a night to cover its costs, Ivanka Trump called his numbers “pure speculation and, simply put, wrong.” (She gave no specific rate for rooms but said they’d rent for cheaper than the Four Seasons. Ultimately, her projection turned out to be wrong.)


Elliott Ferguson, head of the city’s marketing and tourism agency, Destination DC, said the hotel aims to serve a ready clientele of ambassadors, lobbyists, corporate bigwigs and other jet-setters who can afford (or expense) its luxuries.

“They want the high-end, seasoned travelers looking for the high-end, luxury experience, willing to pay to stay at a new hotel,” Ferguson said.

Added analyst Loeb: “There are people in the world who are looking for super luxury – the nicest hotel – of a kind D.C. does not presently have.”

First completed in 1899, the Old Post Office Pavilion is one of the capital’s tallest and most historic buildings, a glimpse of vintage Washington tucked within the drab government boxes of the Federal Triangle.

Protesters hold signs outside the new Trump International Hotel on its opening day in Washington Monday. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Protesters hold signs outside the new Trump International Hotel on its opening day in Washington on Monday. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

A failed government push to demolish the underused building in the 1970s stirred outrage and sparked the District’s historic preservation movement. But after a series of disastrous redevelopment efforts, fed-up members of Congress pushed authorities to open the site to private developers.

General Services Administration officials awarded Trump’s company the 60-year lease in 2012, swayed by his pledge to spend more than $200 million to painstakingly restore the 117-year-old masterpiece – and pay $3 million a year in rent. In doing so, the company beat out Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International, both hospitality giants headquartered in the D.C. suburbs.


The Trumps broke ground in 2014 at a ceremony filled with local Democrats wielding golden shovels, and the project remains on schedule to open two years before the contract’s deadline, leading Trump to take a familiar victory lap.

At a March news conference in the hotel’s lobby, Trump said, “It’s a great thing for the country, it’s a great thing for Washington.”

Trump has often cited the hotel on the campaign trail as an example of how he’ll run the country, with accomplishments ahead of schedule and under budget. In recent weeks, hotel laborers have worked nearly around the clock, cutting stone for the ballroom’s sweeping entryway.

But the hotel’s development has routinely presented an awkward counterpoint to Trump’s fiery campaign rhetoric. Trump’s hired architect, Egypt native Hani Hassan, stuck with the project through the immigration controversy. The hotel’s general manager, France native Mickael Damelincourt, is shepherding his third Trump property.

Damelincourt said he was confident that all 150 rooms made available in the first week would be booked. He said he already has more total business booked in D.C. than he had in the first six months of Trump’s luxury hotel in Chicago, including a dozen weddings.

The controversies might have even helped business, he said: “I don’t have to work as hard to let everybody know about the hotel.”


The hotel has kept its Romanesque Revival design, including the iconic clock tower housing the Bells of Congress. But the inside appears dramatically new, with a ritzy bar and lounge, a BLT Prime steakhouse and an Ivanka Trump-brand spa. For shopping, the hotel offers a boutique by Italian men’s fashion house Brioni, which sells $395 cotton T-shirts and suits starting at $6,000; Trump is a known customer.

The former postmaster general’s office in the building was remodeled into a 4,000-square-foot, $15,000-a-night Presidential Suite, with a fireplace and marble “hand-selected from an Italian quarry” – a selling point carried over from Trump Tower. The 6,300-square-foot Trump Townhouse offers a private office and exclusive Pennsylvania Avenue entryway for $20,000 a night.

The hotel has also advertised that its 13,200-square-foot Presidential Ballroom is the “largest luxury ballroom in D.C.” – seven hotels offer larger ballrooms in Washington, though the company argues they don’t stand on the same level of luxury.

Former GSA officials said the government did its job in awarding the project to the best proposal. But they worry that Trump’s campaign could turn away the deep-pocketed guests, diners and corporate bookers needed to turn a profit.

“As an American I would like to see the building succeed,” said Dan Tangherlini, the former GSA administrator who oversaw lease negotiations. “It would be a disappointment if this endeavor fails because of one person’s views. However, I do think there will be some impact on the project because of this decision to run for political office.”

Robert Peck, the former GSA public buildings commissioner who informed the Trumps of their selection, said he believed the hotel would have no trouble drawing high-end customers due to its “pretty spectacular” location. He will not be among them, though. He said he wouldn’t give Trump “a penny from his personal account.”


Several signs suggest the St. Regis, the Mandarin Oriental and the rest of the city’s luxury-hotel business can handle fresh competition. Occupancy at Washington’s ritziest hotels has stayed level this year, and owners have brought in 2 percent more revenue per room than last year, industry data shows.

Business at Trump’s other nationwide properties has shown signs of slipping, raising questions of whether his new hotel can turn a profit. The share of Trump hotel bookings on the travel site Hipmunk plunged 58 percent during the first half of the year. Foursquare, the location check-in app, said foot traffic to Trump properties had fallen in 11 of the first 13 months since his campaign began.

David Orowitz, the Trump Organization executive overseeing the project, said the company was used to weathering scrutiny over Trump’s celebrity and the projects’ high-profile locales. But he also emphasized that the company was distinct from Trump’s contentious campaign.

“The message we want to send is: This is a place for everybody,” Orowitz said.

To cover the massive remodeling, the Trump Organization invested $42 million and took out a $170 million loan from Deutsche Bank. Trump’s company has also applied for a federal historic-preservation tax credit that would cover about 20 percent of the rehabilitation, or roughly $40 million.

To save money, the Trumps have also pushed for lower taxes at a hotel portrayed as the peak of opulence. D.C. officials agreed last year to trim the property’s tax assessment by $7 million, to $91 million. But Trump sued after an appeals board rejected another attempt to lower the bill even further.


In a legal complaint filed in D.C. Superior Court, Trump attorney William Bosch said the tax assessments were “unreasonable” and “discriminatory” against Trump’s company. Bosch called the lawsuit “a routine and customary practice that thousands of property owners … have used to ensure that their tax assessments are fairly established.”

The opening is bittersweet for the District’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who pushed the government for years to redevelop the property.

“The Trump name we’ve come to grips with, and I think Ivanka Trump recognizes it’s not in their best interest to have politics and business intersect,” Norton said. “It doesn’t benefit them for this hotel to become a lightning rod.”

As for when she’ll be able to enjoy the hotel? She laughed and said, “I’ll never be able to afford to stay at the Trump hotel.”

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