The Trump Organization is looking to expand its luxury hotel brand into dozens of the nation’s major cities because that’s where the tourists and business travelers are.
But they’re also where the strongest opposition to Trump is.
From liberal havens like San Francisco to red-state hubs like St. Louis and Dallas, local officials have been putting the president’s namesake company on notice that it may not be welcome.
“I think that guy is an invalid human and I wish nothing but failure for him,” said Philip Kingston, a Dallas city councilman who is against plans to build a 200-room Trump-branded hotel just blocks from City Hall. “I know that sounds kind of harsh, but I think he’s earned it. I’d hate to see him make any money in my town.”
That kind of sentiment isn’t unique to the U.S. In Vancouver, where the Trump Organization on Tuesday opens its first new hotel since the election, the mayor has led protests against the project. The president’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric, who control the family business while their father is in the White House, are expected to attend the ribbon-cutting in the Canadian city.
Activists are still pushing to get the Trump name removed from the building, which was planned before Trump announced his presidential candidacy. “There’s a strong visceral reaction to the name being attached to our skyline,” Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former chief planner and an opponent of the hotel, told POLITICO.
With Trump now in office, his company is shifting its focus to U.S. development because of ethics restrictions the president and his legal team imposed on his company precluding new international deals.
“We see significant growth opportunity in the United States for both our hotel brands,” a spokesperson for the Trump Hotels said in an email to POLITICO, declining an interview request with company executives and responses to several follow-up questions about its expansion plans.
The head of the Trump Organization’s hotel arm, Eric Danziger, recently told the industry trade publication Skift that the company plans to expand beyond the company’s current locations in Chicago, Hawaii, Las Vegas, South Florida, New York and Washington. “Why wouldn’t a great five-star brand like Trump be in every market that has a five-star market opportunity? Why wouldn’t it be?” he said in the interview with Skift.
The Trump Organization has also already signed 17 letters of intent with potential developers to launch a separate new line of four-star boutique hotels, known as Scion, Danziger told the Wall Street Journal. He told the trade publication Hotel News Now that he expects to have as many as 100 Scion hotels open within the next three years, including in Austin, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver and Nashville.
Austin, an infamously blue city in deep-red Texas, might be a particularly tough sell. Texas Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett said in an interview he’s against a potential 33-story luxury Trump hotel and condominium project that local and national media reports have suggested will rely on foreign investors from China.
The potential location is on the current site of a brick oven pizza joint, just a few blocks from both his home and the state capitol complex. “It’s difficult to imagine anything more inappropriate and unpopular than putting Trump’s name on something in Austin,” Doggett said. “It was a great place to have pizza. If they chose this, it’d be a very popular new place to have protests.”
Opposition to a potential Trump project also quickly surfaced in St. Louis at the site of a vacant downtown building. Hundreds of anti-Trump protestors swarmed the area in November after a local media report noted a developer’s long-standing interest in bringing a Trump hotel to the site.
Marriott ultimately signed on for the project, but the controversy flared until the city’s longtime Democratic Mayor Francis Slay wrote on Twitter that the president-elect’s company wasn’t coming to their neighborhood: “No Trump Hotel. Development team has confirmed that the shuttered Jefferson Arms will NOT be a Trump Hotel. #fgs”
In San Francisco, local officials scoffed at the news the unpopular president’s company could win their approval. “What a joke!” Mark Farrell, the city’s supervisor, told a local television station, KPIX.
“Maybe we can set him up with a nice room in Alcatraz,” added London Breed, president of the city’s board of supervisors.
Hotel industry experts say they don’t expect Trump Organization to start identifying locations for Scion or new luxury Trump projects until financing is approved and the deals are official. “It doesn’t make sense to spread the word about potential deals if this is the reaction you’re getting,” said a longtime industry observer.
Yet even Trump’s fiercest political critics said they wouldn’t consider using their authority to block his hotels, however much they oppose the president.
“That’s not the way the rule of law works,” said Kingston, the Dallas councilman, who’s eyeing a 2019 mayoral run. “If that guy has money and he can get through the permitting process, then we treat all people equal regardless of how we feel about their politics. I’ll just be disappointed.”