Dozens of chanting protesters lined the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue outside where Trump’s company originally intended to hold the event. The Trumps instead moved the event inside the hotel’s gold-trimmed ballroom, where they welcomed some 200 guests, more than three dozen video cameras and a gaggle of reporters. Not present were several of the top local officials (Democrats, mostly) who celebrated the project’s launch two years ago.
Trump has touted the project in speeches, campaign events and two of the debates, often calling it “under budget and ahead of schedule” a claim that is difficult to verify since he set the budget and schedule. (He did beat a government deadline to open the project by more than a year.)
There are signs the publicity many not have been all good for his businesses given the negative reaction to some of his campaign pronouncements, with two restaurants having bailed on the project and some groups saying they will not hold events there. Recently, the Trump Organization has been listing room rates hundreds of dollars below those it initially offered.
The chief executive of Trump Hotels, Eric Danziger, kicked the event off, saying that the hotel business “continues to exceed our expectations,” and that the D.C. outpost had already hosted corporate events, two weddings and received 232 site inquiries from other interested parties.
The hotel’s general manager, Mickael Damelincourt, echoed those remarks in an interview, saying the hotel bar was “without question the busiest” in Washington.
Damelincourt said the hotel naturally offered lower rates when there were not large events in town to drive up demand. “If there isn’t a group in town that is going to be occupying a lot of rooms then you are going to see a lower rate,” he said.
Trump has held three events at the hotel since launching his campaign last summer and each has been marred by protests on the sidewalk out front, despite a unusual leeway the government granted him in controlling the space around it. While representatives of the AFL-CIO and the ANSWER Coalition chanted outside that Trump was racist and unfit for president, security guards stood watch by a temporary metal fence in front of the entrance.
Among those who declined to attend were top local officials who flocked to join the Trump family two years ago when they broke ground on the project, about a year before Trump launched his campaign. At the time, Mayor Muriel Bowser (then a council member), former mayor Marion Barry and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton wielded golden shovels and posted for photos with the magnate, Ivanka and two of his sons, Don Jr. and Eric.
The same members of the Trump family were on stage Wednesday, beaming with their father under three glistening chandeliers. In her remarks, Ivanka praised the “D.C. mayor’s office” and Norton as someone she greatly respects and “who I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know.”
But the officials all found themselves busy elsewhere. Bowser dedicated an affordable housing project. Council member Jack Evans, whose ward includes the hotel, texted to say he was “in a committee markup and dealing with Metro” where he is board chair. Norton’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. Barry died four months after the groundbreaking.
A former D.C. official, Jeff Miller, who served as deputy mayor under then-mayor Vincent C. Gray, said he attended because he was glad to see a company restore the Old Post Office, a historic landmark that was mostly underutilized until the Trump project, to its past grandeur.
“I think it’s tremendous for the city that finally a developer stepped up and worked with the community to get it open again,” Miller said.
Historians say they cannot remember a candidate so deeply mixing business promotions into his campaign. Trump praised the granite, 315-foot building as something the country was able to build “when money was no object” and said it was the finest building in the city “with the notable exception of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
“So many parts of our country are in a state of disrepair,” he said, mentioning the education system, the military and public infrastructure. Gesturing around the room, said he would return jobs and revenue to America the way he had with the Old Post Office. “This is what I want to do for our country,” he said.
He and his family moved into the hotel lobby to cut a red ribbon with ceremonial golden scissors, likely the final promotion of the hotel’s opening.
Then it was back to his other campaign, the political one.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz