Behind makeshift barriers along Pennsylvania Avenue, construction workers were transforming the Old Post Office Pavilion into the luxury Trump International Hotel.
Outside those walls, Donald J. Trump’s billion-dollar brand was unraveling.
Protesters and local officials gathered Thursday in front of the future hotel, calling on Trump’s landlord — in this case, the federal government — to pull the whole project, or at least remove the massive “TRUMP” sign that adorns the construction site and is visible to anyone traveling along the busy thoroughfare.
“He doesn’t like the Hispanic people,” said Alex Jimenez, an Uber driver who moved from Bolivia 15 years ago and brought his two children, ages 11 and 6, to the protest from their home 50 miles away in Fredericksburg, Va. “I want to let them know how the world is.”
When he announced his plans to seek the Republican presidential nomination last month, Trump characterized some illegal Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists, prompting an outcry of protest across the country — notable even for a mogul whose celebrity persona has long centered on his brash comments.
Some longtime business partners, including NBC and Macy’s, severed ties. Celebrity chef José Andrés, who has a lease to open a restaurant in the lobby of the hotel, announced that he’s backing out. Chef Geoffrey Zakarian said Thursday that he also will cancel plans to open a restaurant in the hotel. Zakarian, according to a Trump spokeswoman, had put down a nonrefundable $490,167 deposit to secure his lease.
D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said at Thursday’s rally that the city should demand that Trump abandon the project.
But a spokeswoman for the General Services Administration, which manages the project, said Trump had not violated his lease, and members of Congress had not raised concerns with the agency. “We haven’t gotten any complaints,” said agency spokeswoman Mafara Hobson.
And that huge Trump sign? Hobson said that’s no more than a standard temporary construction sign.
Just last year, city leaders welcomed the controversial figure to the District.
Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, beat out a slew of competitors for the Old Post Office deal after he and his daughter, Ivanka, committed to spend $200 million to turn the 1890s-era building into a luxury hotel.
After agreeing to terms on a 60-year lease with the GSA, the Trump Organization furthered its commitment, agreeing to put up $42 million of its own money.
Things were going swimmingly. The company broke ground two years ago — posing for dozens of photos at a ceremony with top city officials — and construction has stayed well ahead of schedule. In recent weeks, workers have been building a 14,000-square-foot ballroom, installing a tempered glass skylight that covers nearly half an acre, preserving windows and erecting a grand platform for what was supposed to be a destination restaurant by Andrés.
“Donald Trump’s recent statements disparaging immigrants make it impossible for my company and I to move forward with opening a successful Spanish restaurant in Trump International’s upcoming hotel in Washington, D.C.,” Andrés wrote in a statement.
Trump’s golf business has also taken a serious hit. The PGA of America pulled its Grand Slam of Golf tournament from Trump’s course in Los Angeles, which had been scheduled for Oct. 20-21.
A much bigger loss for Trump and his family would come if the PGA were to also pull the 2017 Senior PGA Championship, scheduled on his course along the Potomac River in Loudoun County. Late last month, Trump and PGA officials unveiled $25 million in improvements at the course.
“There’s a reason we’re doing these events with Donald Trump,” said Peter P. Bevacqua, chief executive of PGA of America said at the time. “It’s because he believes in the game. He creates really just masterworks of golf courses and golf properties.”
So far there has been no change. “Going forward, we will continue to make decisions based on a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion,” the PGA said in a statement.
On Thursday, dozens of protesters called the Old Post Office Pavilion “the people’s building.” They carried signs stating that immigrants “are not rapists” and chanted in English and Spanish, “Donald Trump has got to go.” One banner said: “We the people declare Donald Trump morally bankrupt.”
“I’m concerned that [youths] are watching racism become the new normal,” said Catalina Talero, executive director of the nonprofit organization One World Youth Project. “This is a building, but it’s also a historic landmark. The idea of Trump acquiring it is deeply offensive.”
Lorena Rodriguez, a housekeeper at a District hotel, took the day off work to attend the protest.
“I’m a resident now, but I think about everyone else,” said Rodriguez, who left El Salvador about 20 years ago. “I don’t want his discrimination.”
Trump still has some local support. Near the rally Thursday, a handful of Trump backers criticized undocumented immigrants.
An Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who oversees the downtown strip where the hotel is located said that Trump is an effective businessman who will bring economic benefit to the District.
“I wish he could recant on his words,” said commissioner John Tinpe. “I think the neighborhood has something to gain. He’s a good businessman. Unfortunately, his words were a poor choice.”