WASHINGTON – District of Columbia real estate investor and developer Brian Friedman says he will bid to acquire the lease to Donald Trump’s 263-room luxury hotel in downtown Washington, a project that has generated ethical controversies for the president since he entered office.
Friedman said he would like to partner with Hilton to turn the property into a Waldorf Astoria, or with Rosewood, a Hong Kong-based chain that has nine hotels in the U.S., including a newly opened location in Georgetown.
After touring the Trump hotel recently, Friedman said the building was in “amazing” condition. Friedman added that the property was underperforming and Trump was smart to try to sell his interest in it while he is in the White House because the hotel’s business could worsen once he leaves office.
The hotel was only about 57% occupied in 2019, well below competitors, according to marketing materials issued by a real estate firm hired by Trump’s company.
“I think he has to sell before he gets out of office because it’s not going to get better – it’s going to get worse,” Friedman said.
Trump spent an estimated $210 million renovating the hotel. His company issued a statement saying it will try to sell the property for as much as $500 million – a number Friedman said was unrealistic.
The lease, which Trump signed with the federal government before entering office, requires paying the General Services Administration a base rent of $3 million a year.
“There’s never been a hotel that’s sold even close to that price per [room] in D.C. and the ones that have sold for the highest prices had no ground lease,” Friedman said. “You would never get $500 million for a ground lease.”
Friedman’s company, Friedman Capital, already owns two D.C. hotels: the Line Hotel, in Adams Morgan, and Kimpton Glover Park. Spokespersons for Hilton and Rosewood declined comment. Officials at JLL, the company handling the sale for Trump, did not respond to a request for comment.
Even if Friedman and the Trump Organization can agree on a price, however, other hurdles remain. Any sale of the lease would be subject to approval by the GSA, which manages the property for the federal government.
Trump opened his hotel in 2016, three years after signing a 60-year lease with three 10-year options on the building, giving his company control over the property until 2103.
The property has become a Republican power center in Washington but has been a center of controversy and target of lawsuits. Trump continues to benefit from it financially while in office and the hotel has leased space to foreign governments, special interest groups and governors.
As many as three cases alleging the president is violating the Constitution’s “emoluments” provisions barring him from accepting gifts or payments from foreign or state governments now appear headed for the Supreme Court. One of Friedman’s former employees, Jill Phaneuf, is a plaintiff in one of the cases, in which competitors of Trump properties argue Trump unfairly profits from his position in the White House.
By selling his interest in the hotel, Trump would end at least one of those suits, brought by the attorneys general of D.C. and Maryland.
Friedman said he recently attempted to buy the Mayflower Hotel downtown but the price was too high. He said he began considering the Trump hotel after Trump’s adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, announced in October they planned to sell it.
He said he did not think there would be much competition.
“I don’t think there are many people who are going after it,” Friedman said.