By BETH J. HARPAZ Oct 27, 2016
Washington – Donald Trump may be spending most of his days inside the frantic hurricane of the presidential campaign, but inside his new hotel in Washington, calm and luxury prevail.
Staff members offer impeccable service, serving Champagne to guests waiting to check in and preparing rooms with turned-down covers and bedside chocolates. Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., says he’s confident the Trump International Hotel fronting Pennsylvania Avenue a few blocks from the White House will be a place for both Democrats and Republicans – no matter who wins.
“It’s not designed to be a partisan hotel,” Trump Jr. said. “It’s a luxury hotel for all of D.C.”
That remains to be seen. Hundreds of people protested outside the hotel during the ribbon-cutting on Wednesday. The rally started as a protest demanding that Trump recognise union representation for workers at a Las Vegas hotel, but it broadened into a larger anti-Trump event.
Trump attended the ribbon-cutting, calling it a “metaphor for what we can accomplish” and taking precious time away from an apparently sagging campaign.
He summed up the project with only a few words: “under budget and ahead of schedule.” And he noted the renovation and operation of the hotel had created hundreds of jobs.
The Trump Organisation agreed to open the hotel by 2018 and invest $200-million in it in a deal with the federal government, which owns the site. A Trump website describes the project as costing $200-million, so it was unclear what the “under budget” statement referred to.
The hotel staff appears as diverse as any workforce in America – despite Trump’s divisive remarks about immigrants, Muslims and other ethnic groups. A note atop the Gideon Bible in every guest room states that Qurans and other holy books are available upon request, a standard amenity at luxury hotels.
Trump supporter Brenda Dunaway, at the 263-room hotel with friends for lunch, stood in the lobby beneath chandeliers and a soaring glass roof and gave her approval. “It’s beautiful and tastefully done,” she said. “I hope it’s a big success.”
Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric led two celebrity chefs, Jose Andres and Geoffrey Zakarian, to back out of running restaurants in the hotel, but David Burke’s Prime BLT is open in the lobby. Burke was on hand Tuesday night to chat with diners. No second restaurant has been announced.
The five-star Trump International Hotel is located in an 1899 landmark, the Old Post Office, which was in disrepair when the Trump Organisation won a bid from the federal government to turn it into a hotel in 2013.
Nina Gardner, a consultant who lives in the area, decided to attend the protest when she heard about it Wednesday morning. “I’m totally against Donald Trump and his candidacy,” she said.
She has friends who are boycotting Ivanka Trump’s clothing and jewellry line, and she predicted his campaign would “end up hurting his business.”
Rates at Trump hotels have been falling and some residents of a Trump apartment building in New York are trying to have the name removed. But Ivanka Trump insisted all was well as she stood by her father’s side: “Our business at Trump Hotels continues to thrive.”
Rates start around $400 (about R5 200) most nights but cheapest rooms were over $600 for the night before Trump’s visit. Suites run into the thousands. Some five-star D.C. hotels charge much more.
The hotel’s renovation has been criticised for an excess of glitz and gold leaf – signature Trump decor – while covering up marble floors with carpets and walls with drapes. The Trumps defend the renovation as a mix of old and new.
John Cullinane, an architect who worked on the project early on but left, had been among its critics, but declined to comment when reached by phone, saying the Trumps had sent him a letter threatening legal action.
The hotel’s managing director, Mickael Damelincourt, said the hotel’s prime D.C. location and 300 000 square feet of meeting space, along with the city’s largest luxury ballroom, ensures its success. He said the hotel had already hosted two weddings and “board of director meetings from major corporations,” but declined to identify any of the groups.
A clock tower that’s part of the Old Post Office has traditionally been open to the public, offering views of the city from one of the highest points in Washington. It’s closed for renovations, but Donald Trump Jr. said it should be open by the end of the year and will be operated by the National Park Service.