L’Enfant Plaza Hotel employees brace for hotel’s year-long closure


L’Enfant Plaza Hotel is closing for renovations in early December. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For Capital Business)
November 24, 2013

Abrehet Kahassai, a 23-year veteran of the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel, is preparing for unemployment.

The 59-year-old was one of more than 100 employees who signed up for jobless benefits last week when the District’s Department of Employment Services set up shop at the hotel, which is being closed for renovations Dec. 3.

“All of the employees are [enrolling],” she said. “Some are very worried. They are looking for other jobs, they are trying everything.”

L’Enfant Plaza Hotel is being sold to San Francisco-based Stanford Hotels by the JBG Cos. for $48.7 million in a deal expected to close next week. The 40-year-old hotel will subsequently shutter for renovations, displacing more than 170 employees for at least a year, according to the union that represents the hotel’s workers.

“This is a very old property, and my suspicion is that it will take at least 14 to 18 months to renovate,” said John Boardman, a spokesman for Unite Here Local 25. “We are currently engaged in negotiations over what will happen during that renovation period.”

Stanford Hotels did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The union’s current contract with the hotel, which runs through 2017, stipulates that employees receive some health care benefits during the closure. Stanford Hotels has also agreed to reinstate workers when the property reopens, Boardman said.

The average employee, he said, has been working at the hotel for 17 years.

“This is a very seasoned professional workforce,” Boardman said. “We’re talking people who have been here their entire lives — 20, 30, 40 years.”

A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled this summer that the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel had to be sold to Stanford Hotels, which had successfully bid for the property in 1997. The court ruled that the hotel’s previous owner, Sarakreek Holdings, wrongfully backed out of the deal with Stanford when it sold the property to an affiliate of the JBG Cos. instead.

“This has been [in the works] for quite some time,” said Benjamin R. Jacobs, co-founder of JBG.

Although the company is selling the 372-room hotel, JBG will continue to own L’Enfant Plaza. The mixed use development is currently undergoing renovations, which are slated to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2014 — roughly the same time as the hotel’s expected reopening.

In the meantime, L’Enfant Plaza Hotel employees are looking for temporary work to help them make ends meet, Boardman said.

Kahassai, who works as a room service cashier, said she plans to visit her son in Ethi­o­pia for a few months before looking for temporary employment. But, she said, she hopes to return to the hotel one day.

“I have been working here for a long time,” she said. “I have confidence that they will hire us again.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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