Trump and his daughter Ivanka are close to adding the national landmark to the growing portfolio of shiny Trump things. The Old Post Office Pavilion is so revered that the threat of its demolition launched the capital’s historic preservation movement. Built in the 1890s, it has been ogled by local developers for years, and competition for the property began to boil almost immediately when the federal government sought private partners in March 2011.
When the government announced in February that it had selected the Trump plan to turn the building into a luxury hotel, it stunned Washington real estate insiders and politicos alike.
Critics have not held back. They say the Trumps are famous for making unrealistic promises and suing to get their way. They say the $200 million the Trumps have proposed to spend renovating the Old Post Office is not economically sensible, setting the project up for failure. The Trumps have built fewer hotels than their competitors and have never navigated Washington’s political and regulatory landscape. This, the critics say, should matter.
Trump, sitting in the 26th floor office of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, smiles from behind his desk at the criticism. It’s a grin familiar to millions of Americans who watch “The Apprentice,” which he tapes downstairs.
“In a way, we are paying too much for the Old Post Office,” he says casually. “I mean, we are paying too much for the Old Post Office. But we will make that so amazing that at some point in the future it’ll be very nice.”
Fifty years into his real estate career, confidence is a luxury that Trump says he can afford, although that was not always the case.
Trump was 37 and already famous when he completed 58-story Trump Tower, the Fifth Avenue building with pink marble interiors where he lives and works.
But his early triumphs prompted an ambitious entrance into Atlantic City in the 1980s that nearly cost him his fortune. Four times Trump-branded casino companies filed for bankruptcy to ward off creditors in the 1990s and early 2000s, although he has no role managing the companies today.
He staged his return, renegotiating loans and returning to bold skyscraper projects, such as the 72-story Trump World Tower in Manhattan, which a New York Times architecture critic dubbed a “handsome hunk of a glass tower,” and the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, an $850 million hotel and condominium project completed in 2009 that is the second-tallest building in the city. His expansion into golf courses includes the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, where he plays a half dozen times a year and stays when he is in town.
With the help of “The Apprentice,” which debuted in 2004, and “Celebrity Apprentice,” Trump also took his name from one associated with resorts, casinos and a playboy lifestyle to a luxury brand, one that adds value to his properties the way LeBron James’s does sneakers and Paula Deen’s does skillets.