Donald Trump has a lot going on at the moment. Not only is he trying to become president of the United States, but he’s also in the middle of “transforming” one of Washington, D.C.’s most beloved landmarks.
Trump plans to turn the Romanesque Revival Old Post Office, on the corner of the Federal Triangle, into a hotel. But questions about how Donald Trump got hold of the building in the first place have surfaced, and they aren’t easily dismissed.
According to BuzzFeed, who has investigated the purchase of the building, “It is unusual for someone to personally profit from such a prominent contract with the government while at the same time seeking to win that government’s highest office.”
Trump’s plans for the transformation of the Old Post Office, “an architectural treasure and a prized jewel of the federal government’s real estate portfolio,” should be complete later this year. The scaffolding is up and the work is well underway.
Donald Trump held a campaign rally at the Old Post Office on March 21. Trump said the conversion of the beautiful building to a hotel is “going to be amazing…it’s a great thing for the country. It’s a great thing for Washington.” But it’s not just fans of D.C. history who are upset that the building, built in 1899, is undergoing a transformation which is “covering century-old marble floors with carpeting and concealing historic wood and marble walls with drapery.”
BuzzFeed talked to Steven L. Schooner, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, who “monitored” the 2012 transaction to lease the government-owned Old Post Office to Donald Trump for 60 years. Schooner says “there is nothing normal” about the arrangement.
“Trump’s deal is ‘at a minimum a conflict of interest, that a presidential candidate or president could personally benefit or lose sums of money on this scale based on a contractual relation with the federal government.'”
But does it matter how Donald Trump got the okay to build his hotel? As long as the Old Post Office is in safe hands, then its preservation should be guaranteed. And what better pair of hands than multimillionaire Trump, with his retinue of businesses. Except not much of his money is actually being spent on the project, and it’s sitting on a pile of debt.
According to “insiders,” Donald Trump reneged on two promises which influenced the project.
“Trump promised to employ the architect who had, over decades, championed the building’s careful, historic restoration. And he promised the involvement of a multibillion-dollar real estate investment firm with a rock-solid financial reputation. After Trump’s team got the nod from the GSA [General Services Administration], however, it reversed itself on both these promises…the architect would no longer be involved. And it informed the government that it would no longer be working with the real estate investment firm. To finance the construction, Trump borrowed $170 million from a bank, putting the federal lease on the property up as collateral.”
Donald Trump’s company has also “applied for a $32 million federal subsidy, in the form of a tax credit, which could help cover its investment in the taxpayer-owned building.”
The Old Post Office is located in the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site, close to the White House. The building was threatened with razing in the 1970s, but was saved despite President Nixon himself pushing for its demolition. The building was used for offices and retail space before Trump’s reconstruction began.
But is becoming a “super luxury” hotel a bad thing? Old buildings need a financially secure future to protect them, rather than just be something to look at. The Old Post Office “had deteriorated into a grimy food court that sporadically hosted middle-school tour groups,” writes the Washington Post. Donald Trump and his “promise to convert the building into a world-class hotel and shopping complex was seen as key to rejuvenating the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor.”
“Some local leaders remain delighted with Trump’s ability to saw through the bureaucratic logjam that had stalled renovation of the Old Post Office for years. The General Services Administration, National Park Service and various historic preservation boards have jurisdiction over the property.”
Donald Trump is a politically divisive figure to be sure, but it remains to be seen if the concern about the Old Post Office project is warranted. By the time the hotel opens in the fall, people might be too concerned about Donald Trump’s plans for the White House to worry.
[Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images]