Anything with the name ‘Trump’ stamped on the side of it is likely to kindle strong feelings this election season, perhaps nothing more so than the new $212 million hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital.
The Trump Organization opened the 263-room hotel Monday, welcoming the first guests to the lobby bar but keeping the front doors closed to prevent two dozen protesters out front — who commandeered the sidewalk beginning early in the morning — from ruining the party.
So not everyone will be visiting Donald Trump’s hotel, or his daughter’s Ivanka Trump-branded spa. But it’s not every day a presidential nominee opens a hotel down the street from the White House in the middle of the campaign. If you’re planning on going, here’s a preview. And if won’t be going, here’s what you should know about it anyways.
1. The hotel is only partly open.
The Trump Organization called the unveiling Tuesday a “soft opening” for good reason. The company says it offered slightly more than half the rooms, about 150, for reservation this week, all of which it said were booked for Tuesday night. BLT Prime, the restaurant headed by chef David Burke, will open only for guests during the week before opening to the public during the weekend. Some of the doors to the outside were kept closed Monday afternoon while protesters continued chanting out front. Some entire floors of rooms were closed to visitors.
2. That’s because it’s only sort of done.
True, the Trumps opened the hotel two years ahead of the schedule required by their deal with the federal government, but construction workers were still cutting stone out back, painting, and planting trees and shrubs as the first guests arrived. Wires poked through the carpet in the lobby. Upstairs, staff were hanging drapes and hustling in furniture. The Trumps plan a formal opening in October.
3. The Trumps have been checking on progress, despite their campaign duties.
Donald and Ivanka Trump weren’t on hand Monday to open the doors but Donald Trump stopped by Friday to check on things and staff say Ivanka Trump checks in every other day or so and has had a hand in designing bedspreads, bellhop uniforms and more. “She called this morning to see how everything is going. She’s going to be here later this week. She’s probably going to call again tonight. She’s very involved,” said Mickael Damelincourt, the hotel’s general manager.
On Trump Damelincourt said: “He came a few times over the past years, so he has seen the progress. And he knows construction, so he has a good eye.”
4. Donald Trump doesn’t own the Old Post Office pavilion.
In 2013, the Trump Organization signed a 60-year lease for the building, requiring that the company pay the federal government $3 million a year in rent beginning from the opening date. Not being able to outright purchase the building prevented the company from offering part of the hotel as condominiums, which it has done in Chicago and Soho in New York.
5. Because it is federal property no guns are allowed there.
“Violators will be subject to fine and/or imprisonment for periods of up to five years.”
6. Visitors will still be able to tour the clock tower.
Per the agreement between the federal government and the Trump Organization, the National Park Service will continue to control the elevator leading to the building’s clock tower and to provide tours to the public. When will the tours resume? It’s hard to say because the Park Service says “late” 2016 on its web site, but officials there declined to comment.
7. Trump still has to pay taxes on the hotel and the IRS is watching from VERY close distance.
Although the federal government does not pay property taxes for its buildings (same as colleges and universities) a few years ago the D.C. government created a rule requiring private entities in public buildings to pay a tax. This didn’t sit well with the Trumps, who initially inquired about getting the tax revoked and are now suing the District to get their tax bill lowered.
Conveniently for the IRS, its offices are located directly behind the hotel.
8. There are little reminders everywhere that the building is a 117-year-old federal mail facility.
Historic preservation experts have been impressed by the Trumps’ attention to detail in restoring the building. The Trumps removed all 1,184 windows, dissembled them, removed the old glass, then stripped and painted them before reassembling and reinstalling them. They restored old mail boxes, mail shoots and elevators — polishing the brass until it shines. And they elevated the entire main lobby floor to the level it was when the building opened in 1899.
There is a museum area in the basement dedicated to the history of the building and Washington. And Damelincourt said the first guests have asked enough about the building that he is considering hiring a historian to accentuate their stay.
“The guests are very intrigued with the building,” he said. “When people have a chance to walk around the property there are going to be a lot of questions that they ask. They are going to take a lot of pictures.”
9. The general manager is a very loyal Trump guy who has dealt with protests before.
Damelincourt emigrated to the United States from his native France, and became an American citizen in 2010. He opened two previous Trump hotels, in Chicago and Toronto, and both earned five stars on the Forbes hotel rankings. Only one Washington hotel, the Four Seasons in Georgetown, has earned the distinction. He says people can say what they want about Trump but that his job is to open andoperate a five-star hotel. So far the company has hired 220 people as his staff.
“People can be upset with anything. But the bottom line is that there is media interest because of the quality of the building and there is media interest because of the politics. And people can say what their viewpoints are and that’s fine…That’s why I love this company and why I wanted to come to this country, because you have that freedom of speech. But once you’re inside, you don’t notice,”
He has also dealt with protesters on opening day before.
“I had the same thing in Chicago [when it opened] in 2008. I had the same thing in Toronto in 2012. It’s business as usual. People come and protest when there is a lot of interest. And there is always a lot of interest when we open a building because we typically open in a prime location with the most beautiful building,” he said.
10. Of course there are some over-the-top Trump things.
Guests will be treated to Donald Trump-branded wine and “chocolate bouillon.” The bar menu’s hugest item is called “Trump Tower.”
There are also “hipster fries.”
11. Maybe the most Trump thing in the Trump hotel are the bathrooms.
No, the toilet paper isn’t gold.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz