President Trump’s company is actively seeking to open a second Washington hotel as part of a planned nationwide expansion, potentially creating another venue where he stands to benefit financially from customers doing business in the nation’s capital.
Representatives of the Trump Organization, now run by the president’s adult sons, have inquired in recent months about converting one of several boutique, medium-sized hotels in upscale neighborhoods in and near downtown and reopening it under the company’s new Scion brand.
Unlike the luxurious Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, which Trump and his family own, the more affordable Scion hotels would be owned by other developers who would pay the Trumps’ company for licensing rights and management.
“They’re trying hard to do Scion in this market, and they’re trying hard in other markets also,” said developer Brian Friedman, who owns the Carlyle Hotel in Dupont Circle and Kimpton Glover Park.
Friedman, managing partner of D.C.-based Foxhall Partners, said Trump representatives had toured both properties in recent months and had previously inquired about a hotel Foxhall is developing in Adams Morgan.
Friedman said he also occasionally receives inquiries from buyers who say they have a licensing agreement with Trump for a Scion and wanted to buy one of his hotels and convert it.
“Definitely there are groups that say they are going to do a Trump Scion hotel,” he said. “These are just people running around saying ‘I have money and the brand is Scion.’ ”
While some of the inquiries predate the election, the company has continued to look for a Washington partner.
Eric Danziger, chief executive of the Trump Organization’s hotel division, more recently toured the 199-room Beacon Hotel, at 1615 Rhode Island Ave. NW, with an interest in converting the property to a Scion, according to a real estate executive who was not authorized to discuss the Trump Organization’s interest and spoke on the condition of anonymity. No agreement was reached.
“I think he liked it,” the executive said. “He said it was perfect. It just didn’t work out.”
Danziger said in a statement issued by the company that he wouldn’t disclose new properties until he has firm agreements in place but that he has signed “over 30” letters of intent — preliminary agreements — with developers to open Scions in cities across the country.
Trump International Hotel, which opened in the fall, has become a touchstone in the controversy over the president’s decision to retain ownership of his business.
By hosting political groups and foreign embassies as clients, the luxury property has prompted protests, lawsuits and criticism from ethics experts who think Trump has the potential to profit from the prestige and power of the presidency. Trump has dined there multiple times with family and administration officials, including this past Saturday night when he was joined by his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, who both work in the White House.
The addition of a more informal Scion Hotel in the District would provide a chance for less well-heeled groups to do business with the president’s company — albeit at a property that would not bear his name.
The process of opening a new hotel could take years.
The company relies on a Washington attorney, Bobby R. Burchfield, to review proposed deals for ethical minefields.
“We do not discuss hotel projects that have not been finalized as we have a rigorous review-and-approval process,” Danziger said. “It is also very common in the hospitality business that some projects do not come to fruition. So, we prefer to be sure that all potential deals are appropriately vetted and also completely negotiated before any announcement.”
Described in marketing materials as a “lifestyle brand,” Scion is designed for customers who are loyal to the Trump brand but who want to spend less money or, in some cases, stay in places where there is no luxury, five-star Trump hotel.
“I’m not surprised that they would look to do their new brand in D.C. It makes all the sense in the world,” said R. Donahue Peebles, a developer and political fundraiser who met with Trump during the transition.
Peebles said he would be looking for chances to do a deal with Danziger himself. “I am sure we will find something or other to work on,” he said.
To insulate himself from the company, Trump has resigned from positions there, leaving control of the firm to sons Donald Jr. and Eric.
Donald Trump Jr. said in an interview recently that he familiarized himself with other markets — and potential partners — while on the campaign trail for his father. The sons have said they are minimizing contact with their father except to provide basic updates on the business.
“Will I ever ask for anything that could otherwise benefit the business? Absolutely, emphatically not,” Eric Trump said recently.
But two lawsuits, one from advocates at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and another from owners of D.C. wine bar Cork, cite the D.C. hotel business in taking aim at the president’s continued ownership of his company.
Congressional Democrats have repeatedly asked the General Services Administration, which leases the existing hotel to Trump’s firm because it is in the federally owned Old Post Office Pavilion, to address the conflicts. But so far the agency has declined, ruling last week that the Trump Organization remained in compliance with the deal by agreeing not to disburse profits to Trump until he is out of office.
The agency’s inspector general, Carol F. Ochoa, has thus far declined to launch her own investigation, writing to congressional Democrats on March 17 that she will “continue to monitor” the GSA’s management of the lease and “will remain alert to any irregularities,” but saying nothing about an investigation.
Another federal watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, told Democrats on Friday that it would review the company’s practice of hosting the president at its properties and Trump’s promise to donate profits from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury.
As it expands into new markets, the Trump Organization is sometimes encountering stiff opposition from local elected officials — although mayors and city council members are sometimes powerless to keep a Trump brand off their skyline.
Officials in Vancouver, B.C., declined to attend the opening of the Trump-branded tower there last month, and officials in San Francisco, St. Louis and other U.S. cities rumored to be Scion targets have spoken against the idea of a Trump hotel in their communities.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) declined to attend the opening celebration of Trump International Hotel and informed Ivanka Trump, before the election, of her displeasure at the Trump Organization suing chef José Andrés after the restaurateur pulled out of plans to open a restaurant there.
Bowser’s chief of staff, John Falcicchio, declined to take a position on the possibility of another Trump-branded hotel in the city. “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said.
Other than deals for ground-up developments that require zoning changes, local officials may have little control over where the Trump Organization opens Scions. And with investors paying top dollar for D.C. hotels, it could provide the Trump Organization with more opportunities.
Andy Wimsatt, managing director of hotel brokerage and sales in the Washington office of CBRE, said he wasn’t surprised to see the company trying to unveil a less-expensive line.
“It’s not unusual for any sort of luxury brand that’s getting some traction to spin off a more accessible, more affordable sub-brand,” he said. “It’s not a bad time to be a hotel owner in D.C.”