As President Trump settles into his first week in the White House, the first paying guests will begin checking in tonight at the lavish suites of the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver, a glass skyscraper developed by the son of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest business executives.
The tower, the first foreign business launch of the Trump brand during the new presidency, is an early test of Trump’s controversial decision to retain ownership of his businesses while promising to combat ethical conflicts by removing himself from the management. It also shows how Trump properties around the world are likely to become focal points for protest or other forms of expressions aimed at the U.S. president and his policies.
Trump and his family do not own the Vancouver project, but the president has a stake in its continued success. The developers have paid Trump’s company for the use of his name while they also pay fees for his company to manage the hotel, according to federal financial disclosures filed by Trump.
Developers say that the hotel, where workers pulled the covers off its imposing “Trump” lettering the day before Friday’s inauguration, has seen an “overwhelming amount of reservations.” Deep-pocketed buyers have also scooped up condos. Buyers include an American tech billionaire who paid $7.6 million Canadian (US$5.7 million) for three luxury flats.
To many locals, the building is something of a political symbol. Some, including Vancouver’s mayor, have protested the name that appears in lights above the skyline. Eggs were thrown at a Trump hotel window during the Women’s March there on Saturday that filed past the property.
Trump’s association with overseas hotels was cited in a lawsuit brought this week by ethics experts, who argued that permits or other benefits granted to Trump-branded properties could violate a constitutional ban on foreign government payments to the U.S. president.
The details of how Trump’s company will relate to his presidency have not been clear in the two weeks since Trump and his attorney outlined his separation plan in a news conference, during which they stood beside stacks of papers they said detailed the next moves.
They have declined to share the trust agreement in which Trump pledged that his sons and an executive would run the company. And they have not provided documentation to back up weeks-old claims, including that Trump sold all of his shares in private companies whose fortunes he could potentially steer from the Oval Office.
Adding to the mystery surrounding Trump’s profits during his presidency is his refusal to release his tax returns, which would presumably offer a detailed accounting of his income sources.
Trump’s private company, the Trump Organization, announced Wednesday that it had named longtime GOP lawyer Bobby R. Burchfield to serve as an outside ethics adviser and 10-year Trump company executive George A. Sorial to serve as chief compliance counsel.
Burchfield, a partner in the Washington office of international law firm King & Spalding, will have the ability to push back against any of the Trump company’s new domestic deals, and “certain transactions cannot be undertaken” without his prior approval, the company said.
Sorial most recently worked as an executive vice president and counsel overseeing the company’s real estate deals. One of Trump’s sons, Donald Trump Jr., said in a statement, “It is vital to have someone in this position who understands the breadth of our organization including all aspects of our day-to-day operation.”
The company on Tuesday also provided a list, signed by Trump and dated one day before his inauguration, in which he agreed to resign as an officer from more than 400 companies tied to his real estate and branding holdings, including those linked to the Vancouver project. The company is updating business records in the states where the various entities are registered, as required by law, the Trump Organization representative said.
Those resignations, the person said, reflect Trump’s interest in relinquishing management of his business.
The Trump company also said it will no longer “actively utilize President Trump’s image or likeness for the marketing or promotion” of the Trump company and its business interests across the world.
The person said the company is “confident that we will establish a very clear distinction between active promotion and pure fact.”
Independent ethics experts say the lingering mysteries over Trump’s corporate involvement, even as he begins making decisions as president, are a worrying sign for transparency over the next four years.
“It’s extraordinary. There are still so many questions,” said Trevor Potter, a former counsel for the presidential campaigns of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and George H.W. Bush. “All those piles of paper they had, we haven’t seen them. Who knows? Maybe they were all blank.”
Those concerns have a real-life home in the new Trump tower in Vancouver, which quietly opens its doors to its first overnight guests today. A grand-opening gala featuring members of the Trump family is scheduled for late February.
“It will be a really, really big event,” said Zhang Yan Chen, an assistant to Joo Kim Tiah, the heir of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest families and chief executive of the Holborn Group, the development firm leading the project.
The official opening has been delayed, she said, as workers complete two hotel attractions, including an Ivanka Trump-branded luxury spa. “We want to make sure that everything is perfect,” she said.
Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, are expected to attend the official opening, where they will be joined by Joo Kim Tiah’s father, Malaysian multimillionaire Tony Tiah Thee Kian, and other members of the Tiah family, flying in from their base in Kuala Lumpur, the developers said.
President Trump is not expected to attend, the developers said. Neither is his daughter Ivanka, who is stepping away from active involvement in the family business, and whose husband, Jared Kushner, has been taken on as one of Trump’s key White House advisers.
The Vancouver tower is one of the newest and more visible in Trump’s branding network, which includes Trump-branded hotels, condominium developments and other projects around the world.
Trump has promised “no new deals” for his company abroad, and his company said it has dissolved more than 30 pending deals for projects around the world. But those cancellations do not affect underway projects including the Vancouver tower, where developers have paid more than $65,000 since 2014 to license the Trump name, according to Trump’s most recent personal financial disclosure.
Trump’s next international licensing deal is scheduled to open in the coming weeks: the Trump International Golf Club Dubai, a sprawling ultraluxury complex in the United Arab Emirates. Trump said at a news conference this month that the club’s billionaire developer, Hussain Sajwani, had approached him after the election with $2 billion worth of other deals, which Trump said he turned down.
Today’s “soft opening” in Vancouver comes as the Trump administration leads its first talks on trade and other issues with Canadian leaders. Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke Saturday “about strengthening the relationship between our two nations,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday. Trump’s chief economic adviser, Stephen Schwarzman, also met with Trudeau this week to talk trade, as Trump prepares to push Canada and Mexico to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The 63-story tower is the second-tallest skyscraper in Vancouver, with roughly 217 condo units and 147 hotel rooms. Developers have advertised the tower, which cost $360 million Canadian to build and is notable for its twisting sides, as “Vancouver’s most anticipated hotel and residences.”
Zhang Yan Chen, of the Holborn development firm, said the hotel’s meeting and banquet rooms have been busy with convention and wedding business since they opened in November. All the condo units have been sold, with the exception of three penthouses, she said.
Among the condo buyers are John Tu, a Chinese-born American tech billionaire who bought three flats, according to a Vancouver Sun analysis of property records. Tu, who Forbes estimates is the 90th-wealthiest person in the United States, is a founder of Kingston Technology, a maker of computer memory chips. A Kingston spokesman said that Tu’s purchase of the condos was a “private transaction” and that Tu had no intention of moving to Canada.
Although developers said the hotel is reporting high demand, rooms can be reserved online starting at about $188 a night plus taxes, a significant discount off posted rates.
Perks include Trump Signature Pet Amenities that, for $30 Canadian a night, include in-room provision of gourmet dog or cat treats, a water bowl with fresh bottled water, toys and special maps highlighting dog-friendly parks.
The tower’s name has sparked controversies across Canada. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson led a fierce campaign to have the Trump name removed, telling the developers in late 2015 that Trump’s name has “no more place on Vancouver’s skyline than his ignorant ideas have in the modern world.”
That anger has not subsided in the weeks since Trump won the U.S. presidential election.
Two pediatric-health professors at the University of British Columbia wrote a Vancouver Sun column last week calling for the removal of the Trump name, saying it “represents a socially contagious condition that endangers the health and well-being of our children and youth.”
The developers say they have a good relationship with the Vancouver Police Department and have contracted for a high level of private security. Jason Doucette, a Vancouver police spokesman, said the force “will continue to monitor the situation and adjust resources as/if required” for the opening.
Since the tower’s chrome “Trump” sign was unveiled last week, it has become one of the city’s most contentious attractions, drawing curious onlookers to the building’s fortresslike layer of construction fencing. Next to the entrance is Mott 32, a luxury restaurant serving Hong Kong cuisine, as well as a Trump-brand “champagne lounge” swaddled in velvet.
One of the onlookers turned away by security at the glass doors was local businessman Brett Matich, who said he was eager to start dining at what he believed was “best in Vancouver.”
Matich also said he hopes Trump’s election will sway Canadian voters to elect the Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary, known for his appearances on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank.”
“A country is like a big business, so I think that’s going to be a progression for a number of countries,” Matich said.
Peng reported from Vancouver, Freeman from Ottawa and Harwell from Washington.