Dose of cold feet at Trump ho­tel

Fear­ing a po­lit­i­cal back­lash, some wed­ding plan­ners vow to steer clear — de­spite its el­e­gance

The Washington Post Sunday - - CAPITAL BUSINESS - BY ABHA BHAT­TARAI abha.bhat­tarai@wash­post.com

Sarah Squire’s wed­ding wasn’t meant to be a po­lit­i­cal state­ment. But, she says, it prob­a­bly seems like one now.

Back when Squire booked the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., for her Jan­uary nup­tials, Don­ald Trump was one of a dozen can­di­dates clam­or­ing for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion. The real es­tate ty­coon was widely pre­sumed to be a long shot for the na­tion’s high­est of­fice.

But by the time Squire and her hus­band got mar­ried in the prop­erty’s pres­i­den­tial ball­room on Jan. 14, Trump was six days away from be­ing sworn in as the next pres­i­dent of the United States.

“That def­i­nitely wasn’t some­thing we ever con­sid­ered,” said Squire, 27, who works in busi­ness devel­op­ment for a law firm in Nashville. “We had no idea this would hap­pen.”

Added her mother, Elisabeth: “As the build­ing pro­gressed — and as Trump was pro­gress­ing, too — we were think­ing, ‘Oh, boy.’ ”

The rea­sons Squire chose the his­toric prop­erty on Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue, she says, were sim­ple: It was a his­toric build­ing in down­town Wash­ing­ton that could eas­ily ac­com­mo­date her 300 guests.

“And we heard that it was Ivanka be­hind the de­sign — not her daddy,” Elisabeth added. “She has great taste.”

While a hand­ful of cou­ples have al­ready tied the knot at Trump’s ho­tel since it opened in Septem­ber, wed­ding plan­ners say many oth­ers are es­chew­ing the prop­erty in fa­vor of less-con­tro­ver­sial venues around town.

Trump spent $212 mil­lion ren­o­vat­ing the his­toric prop­erty, which he is rent­ing from the Gen­eral Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The ho­tel has been the site of fre­quent protests, in­clud­ing an in­ci­dent last month when a man ap­par­ently set him­self on fire out­side the build­ing.

A spokes­woman for the ho­tel did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

“A lot of brides are say­ing ‘This is very po­lit­i­cal for my guests, so I think I’ll go else­where,’” said a lo­cal wed­ding plan­ner who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the back­lash af­ter an Oc­to­ber wed­ding she planned at the ho­tel. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place in the city that’s so po­lar­iz­ing.”

“The fall­out of this — peo­ple threat­en­ing my fam­ily, call­ing for boy­cotts of my com­pany — has been worse than any­thing I could’ve imag­ined,” she added.

‘A po­lit­i­cal event’

Even brides and grooms who have al­ready got­ten mar­ried at the ho­tel are tread­ing care­fully. One cou­ple asked that their names not be vis­i­ble in any pho­tos of their wed­ding shared on­line. Oth­ers have be­gun leav­ing the name “Trump” off in­vi­ta­tions, re­fer­ring to the prop­erty in­stead by its orig­i­nal name, “the Old Post Of­fice Pavil­ion,” ac­cord­ing to a lo­cal florist who pro­vides ar­range­ments for the Trump ho­tel.

The re­ac­tion to the prop­erty “has been as split as the elec­tion was,” said Jen­nifer Stiebel, owner of Dis­trict-based SoCo Events, who planned a New Year’s Eve wed­ding at the ho­tel. “Let’s put it this way: There are def­i­nitely some clients I would never rec­om­mend it to. But at the same time, when you walk into that lobby, it’s hard to deny that it is gor­geous.”

That re­frain — gor­geous, beau­ti­ful, stun­ning — was a com­mon one among the area’s wed­ding plan­ners. And, they said, they were im­pressed by the ho­tel’s events and ca­ter­ing team, made up of veter­ans of Wash­ing­ton’s toni­est ho­tels. David An­der­son, the head of ca­ter­ing, was for­merly at the Four Sea­sons in Ge­orge­town. Rebecca Ven­tura, di­rec­tor of so­cial ca­ter­ing sales, came from the Hay-Adams.

“It’s beau­ti­ful — there’s no way around that,” said Katie Martin, owner of El­e­gance & Sim­plic­ity, a Bethesda com­pany that spe­cial­izes in eco-friendly wed­dings. “And, ob­vi­ously, it’s sit­ting in a great part of town.”

But, she added, her clients have yet to show any in­ter­est. In­stead, they’re book­ing wed­dings at the De­catur House, a his­toric build­ing around the cor­ner from the White House, and var­i­ous ho­tels in town.

“We’re such a di­vided na­tion right now,” Martin said. “No­body wants their wed­ding to be­come a po­lit­i­cal event.”

The phe­nom­e­non, she says, isn’t lim­ited to Trump’s ho­tel. Martin says her clients had sim­i­lar re­ac­tions to the Ronald Rea­gan Build­ing and In­ter­na­tional Trade Cen­ter when it opened in 1998. Other cou­ples, she said, refuse to con­sider the Whit­te­more House man­sion in Dupont Cir­cle be­cause it is home to the Women’s Na­tional Demo­cratic Club.

“Pol­i­tics re­ally af­fect our emo­tions,” she said. “And we live in an area that’s very po­lit­i­cally charged.”

‘I left pol­i­tics out­side’

Sara Robert­son wasn’t sure what to ex­pect when she walked into the Trump ho­tel on New Year’s Eve for a last-minute pho­tog­ra­phy gig. Would there be protests? Van­dal­ism? Po­lit­i­cally charged de­bates?

The wed­ding turned out to be an op­u­lent cel­e­bra­tion, com­plete with poi dancers and women in short, glit­tery out­fits spin­ning light-up Hula-Hoops in the dark. Guests danced to Top 40 hits, and a cannon blasted glit­ter and con­fetti at mid­night.

“I left all pol­i­tics aside when I walked in there,” said Robert­son, who owns Wolfcrest Pho­tog­ra­phy in Fred­er­icks­burg, Va. “And it seemed like ev­ery­one else did, too.”

Some, though, say they’ve faced back­lash over their de­ci­sions to do busi­ness at the Trump. Aaron Broadus, band leader of Broad­Sound En­ter­tain­ment, said other mu­si­cians ques­tioned his in­ten­tions when he took to Face­book to write about his ex­pe­ri­ence play­ing at the ho­tel.

“Peo­ple started say­ing, ‘Oh, well I would never per­form there,’ ” said Broadus, who is also a mu­sic pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge­town University. “But that’s not where we stand. We’re im­par­tial. And in the end, ev­ery­thing was okay. Ev­ery­thing was fine.”

A lot of gold

When Kather­ine Call­away booked the ho­tel for her Septem­ber wed­ding, she was sure of one thing: There would be a lot of gold.

She had yet to set foot in the build­ing, which was still months from fin­ish­ing ren­o­va­tions.

Her wed­ding plan­ner said she was wary when she heard that Call­away had signed up to host the very first wed­ding there. The build­ing was un­der con­struc­tion and wouldn’t be com­plete un­til a cou­ple of weeks be­fore their big day. Plus, she said, “a ho­tel’s soft open­ing is typ­i­cally a dis­as­ter.”

“I went in think­ing it would be a night­mare,” the plan­ner said. “But walk­ing into the re­cep­tion, I was dumb­founded. It was beau­ti­ful.”

The back­lash, though, was any­thing but. When word got out that she’d worked with the Trump ho­tel, peo­ple took to her In­sta­gram ac­count with hate-filled mes­sages and threats, she said. They called for boy­cotts of her com­pany, which re­sulted in her los­ing at least one cor­po­rate client.

“It was a com­plete down­ward spi­ral,” she said.

But, she added, “I would def­i­nitely do an­other wed­ding there. It would just be some­thing I’d have to keep quiet.”

SARA ROBERT­SON/WOLFCREST PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

A ta­ble set­ting for a New Year’s Eve wed­ding at the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel in the Dis­trict.

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