Trump to turn Old Post Office into luxury hotel


The Pavilion in the Old Post Office Building.

Donald J. Trump is getting a Pennsylvania Avenue address in Washington, it just won’t be 1600.

The federal government announced Tuesday that the New York real estate magnate’s hotel company has been selected to turn Washington’s Old Post Office Pavilion into a luxury getaway.

Built in the 1890s, the Old Post Office is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the tallest buildings in the city, with a distinctive clock tower. Although it remains home to a smattering of federal offices and tourist-oriented retail stores and restaurants, the building has seen better days. It loses more than $6 million annually and became a target of federal officials looking to sell or lease underused government buildings.

When the General Services Administration began seeking proposals in March to redevelop the Old Post Office — located partway between the Capitol and the White House — hotel developers and real estate investors swarmed, proposing ideas that included a Waldorf Astoria Hotel by Hilton Worldwide and a National Museum of the Jewish People.

Trump prevailed with a plan to team up with California private equity company Colony Capital to invest $200 million in acquiring the building and turning it into a luxury hotel of at least 250 rooms that would include conference space, a spa, restaurants and museum space focused on the history of the building.

Trump, chairman and president of the Trump Organization who toyed with a possible run for president in the Republican primaries, in a news release called the government’s selection “a tremendous validation of our plan for the highest and best use of this historic building and the hard work of our organization.”

His daughter Ivanka M. Trump, who has worked as a fashion model and as a judge on her father’s reality TV show “The Apprentice,” serves as the company’s executive vice president of development and acquisitions and led the company’s proposal. The Trump Hotel Collection already operates luxury hotels in Chicago, New York, Las Vegas, Hono­lulu and Panama. Its newest hotel opened in Toronto this year.

“The Trump Organization is committed to making this the finest luxury hotel in the world and we think the building’s location and historic nature will allow us to do that,” Ivanka Trump said in an interview Tuesday.

How prominent will the famous and controversial Trump name be on Pennsylvania Avenue? Ivanka Trump said that the company would take care to preserve the building’s exterior while incorporating its brand into the redevelopment.

“I think the historic facade of the building will be the greatest signage of all,” she said.

The government attempted to redevelop the Old Post Office in the 1980s, which led to the addition of a rear annex, but that space has long been empty and in disrepair, with broken tiles, exposed beams and unfinished storefronts.

The building is home to agencies including the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which will have to relocate.

On Tuesday the House passed a bill that would establish a new process for selling federal buildings.

“Deciding to move forward with redeveloping this iconic property potentially will save millions in taxpayer dollars,” said Robert Peck, commissioner of the GSA’s Public Buildings Service, in a news release. “The tremendous response from the private sector allowed us to select a proposal that will provide a positive economic return for the federal government and better utilize a historic property on our nation’s Main Street.”

The government and Trump still must come to terms on a final financial agreement, one that governs the use of the building and preservation of its historic aspects, in the next 12 months. Trump would lease the land from the government and the clock tower would remain under the control of the National Park Service and open to the public.

The hotel could open as early as 2016.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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