During Donald Trump’s much scrutinized Monday night debate performance, he briefly mentioned but did not adequately explain, a major new Trump family success story — the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. that opened on September 12.
Before I elaborate on the hotel’s economic, architectural, historical, and political significance, it is important to recap the exact words Trump directed at Hillary Clinton and over 84 million debate watchers:
But what she doesn’t say is that tens of thousands of people that are unbelievably happy and that love me. I’ll give you an example. We’re just opening up on Pennsylvania Avenue right next to the White House, so if I don’t get there one way, I’m going to get to Pennsylvania Avenue another. But we’re opening the Old Post Office. Under budget, ahead of schedule, saved tremendous money. I’m a year ahead of schedule. And that’s what this country should be doing.
Surely the average debate viewer had no idea what Trump was referring to when he said “opening up on Pennsylvania Avenue” and “opening the Old Post Office.” Having visited Trump’s new D.C. hotel just days before, it was obvious to me as a political observer and Trump voter that Trump missed a unique opportunity to connect his famous slogan “Make America Great Again” with his remarkable corporate achievement.
Although Trump did mention the Old Post Office as an example of “what this country should be doing,” his words were inartful and incomplete. Hopefully, a Trump campaign strategist will read this piece and advise Trump how he can leverage his new D.C. hotel as a tangible political asset during the next debate. Let’s start with some facts.
The Trump International Hotel is the new name of one of Washington D.C’s tallest and most historic buildings, known locally as the Old Post Office. Completed in 1899, this massive and distinctive stone structure was originally the headquarters of the U.S. Postal Service. The official address of Trump’s hotel is 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue. Ironically, it stands a few blocks from 1600 Pennsylvania where Trump hopes to reside if things go his way on Election Day.
Here is how the Washington Post explained why a Trump hotel sign now hangs on the stately Old Post Office building:
A failed government push to demolish the underused building in the 1970s stirred outrage and sparked the District’s historic preservation movement. But after a series of disastrous redevelopment efforts, fed-up members of Congress pushed authorities to open the site to private developers. General Services Administration officials awarded Trump’s company the 60-year lease in 2012, swayed by his pledge to spend more than $200 million to painstakingly restore the 117-year-old masterpiece — and pay $3 million a year in rent. In doing so, the company beat out Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International, both hospitality giants headquartered in the D.C. suburbs.
Having attended the grand opening gala of one of the “disastrous redevelopment efforts” in the mid-1980s, I was excited about visiting the Trump International Hotel in its second week of operation.
Visiting D.C. for business, I enticed a close friend to pick me up at the airport with a “bribe” of lunch at the Trump hotel. Upon walking in, we gasped at the grandeur of the spectacular lobby and then I exclaimed, “Look, there’s Ivanka!!”
Donald Trump’s genetically blessed, multi-talented oldest daughter is not only rumored to be his most influential campaign adviser, but she is the Trump Organization’s executive in charge of the Old Post Office hotel renovation. In this capacity, Ivanka was showing the hotel to a small group of business people. Trying not to act like star-struck groupies we walked over to Ivanka, and I snapped this photo.
I offered congratulations on the success of her project, and she graciously thanked me. Honestly, the word “success” is an understatement. The immense breathtaking lobby is unlike any Washington hotel and sure to become a popular upscale meeting place.
In addition to the lobby, we oohed and aahed at the renovation in general. Due to the historic nature of the 1899 building, the Trump organization had to painstakingly restore all the original mahogany trim, numerous large walls of over 100-year-old marble, and the enormous exposed iron beams that originally supported the second floor.
After a lovely lunch in the lobby area (expensive but not outrageous), we checked out the new “Presidential Ballroom” — 13,200 square feet of new construction adjoining the Old Post Office. Marketed as the “largest luxury ballroom” among Washington D.C. hotels, it resembles the famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The ballroom’s opulent design is similar to an even larger grand ballroom at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida where I have attended a few political events — and why I marveled at Trump’s obvious affection for lavish, oversized, excessively mirrored, antique gold and white ballrooms.
Because we only walked through the hotel, ate lunch, and nosed around, my friend and I did not see any of the 263 “richly luxurious guestrooms and suites.” Curious about the room rates, I randomly picked Friday, October 14 and checked the prices. The least expensive room with my AAA discount was $460 and with taxes, the room totaled $522.70. Yes, expensive, but comparably priced to other 5-star hotels in D.C.
We left Trump’s hotel extremely impressed, excited about telling our friends and vowing to return again. So I did — the next day and had another unexpected rendezvous.
With an hour between downtown meetings, I decided to take myself to lunch at the BLT Prime restaurant overlooking the Trump hotel’s voluminous lobby. The day before, while dining in the lobby area, I liked the Caesar salad with the crab cake croutons and proceeded to order it again. The view from my table was an architectural wonder as I looked up at the enormous century-old bell tower as seen through the glass ceiling.
As I was devouring the crab cake croutons and taking photos from my seat, a distinguished looking well-dressed gentleman approached my table and, with a refined French accent, asked how I was enjoying my lunch. It turned out he was Mickael Damelincourt, the hotel’s managing director, aka the “big boss.” Naturally, I milked the moment, engaged him in conversation, and fired off questions. Damelincourt told me that this is the third hotel he has managed for the Trump Organization, and of course, he thinks the world of Mr. Trump.
How many people will be employed by the Trump Hotel? Damelincourt proudly answered 550 when fully staffed. Then he added that the hotel had received 10,000 applications. Many of those applicants are currently employed at 5-star hotels throughout the city, and numerous others are from around the globe. I mentioned that I had noticed the great majority of employees were people of color. (So much for Trump being a racist I blurted out.) Furthermore, Damelincourt stated that 600 construction workers were employed building the hotel.
Circling back to politics, all this translates into “Trump, the job creator.” And now, as previously mentioned, you understand why during the debate Trump squandered the chance to briefly explain the economic and political symbolism of his new Washington D.C. project while failing to reveal the greater meaning of the Trump Hotel. Yes, he did say “opening the Old Post Office” is “what this country should be doing” but that went right over the heads of most American voters. Here is the message that Trump needs to convey.
He needs to explain the magnitude and complexity of finishing, ahead of schedule and under budget, a historic renovation of a century-old iconic government-owned landmark within walking distance of the White House that symbolizes visually — better than any TV ad or speech — that Trump CAN MAKE “America Great Again.” The Old Post Office represents the future of America under President Trump! (Cue the commercial.)
Whereas Hillary Clinton only claimed to have plans for job creation, Trump has a living monument on Pennsylvania Avenue actively generating tax revenue and providing livelihoods for 550 workers. But Trump must convey exactly how and why the skills exhibited in this outstanding corporate achievement (headed by a woman) can translate into the Oval Office. If he can articulate this concept during the next debate, I have no doubt that many undecided voters will be swayed.
Cross-posted at BizPac Review