WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has big plans for the Old Post Office building, a historic structure in downtown Washington that he's pledging to transform into the city's most luxurious hotel. As for the White House, four blocks away? He's not saying.
The real estate mogul and reality TV star was all business in his visit to the nation's capital Wednesday for a ceremonial groundbreaking outside the 115-year-old building — shaking hands, posing for pictures with gold-plated shovels and praising Democratic political leaders for their cooperation.
The Old Post Office is on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol. Its 315-foot clock tower is the third-tallest structure in the District of Columbia, trailing only the Washington Monument and a Roman Catholic basilica, and it offers rare panoramic views of downtown.
Built to house the U.S. Post Office Department headquarters, the Romanesque Revival building has been underutilized in recent years, housing small vendors that catered mostly to tourists. The Trump Organization won a $200 million contract with the federal government to turn it into a luxury hotel with 270 guest rooms and suites, restaurants, retail and a 13,000-square-foot ballroom. Trump hopes the renovation will be finished in mid-2016, before the next presidential election.
"It's really the best location in D.C. by far. I mean, everybody acknowledges that," Trump said in an interview after the ceremony. "We're going to do a building the likes of which D.C. has never seen. I think it will be one of the fine hotels anywhere in the world, and maybe the finest."
Trump, a Republican, has openly pondered a presidential bid on multiple occasions. Asked whether building a hotel so close to the White House would rekindle his political ambitions, Trump said only that he wanted to share his vision of success with the nation's capital.
"It will show how to get things done because we know how to build, we know how to create beautiful things, important things, and we know how to create jobs," he said. "That's what the country has to be doing."
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents the District in Congress, has led the push to renovate the building and said the government has found ideal partners in Trump and his daughter Ivanka, the lead developer on the project.
"Look at what the Old Post Office had been reduced to — something of an ugly duckling on Pennsylvania Avenue," Norton said. "I think we're about to see the grand old lady back in her iconic glory."
Because the building will become a Trump International Hotel, it will carry Trump's name, but with more subtlety than he's known for.
"The name will be on it somewhere," Trump said, "but it will be very discreet."