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D.C. Could Use More Donald

Trump's luxury hotel downtown is a good deal for the city, but why stop there?

Getty/Alex Wong

On Wednesday morning, in a ground-floor auditorium at the headquarters of the Washington Post,  Donald Trump and daughter Ivanka–who last year won the right to redevelop the iconic Old Post Office as a 250-room luxury hotel–had their formal introduction to polite D.C. After months of interviews here and there, in a conversation broadcasted live online, interviewer Mary Jordan asked the pair just how awesome their project was going to turn out.

"Can we get some details? What's it gonna look like?" Jordan asked, leaning forward eagerly. "I wanna know about that spa in particular."

"The spa is going to be phenomenal, so you'll enjoy it, definitely," said Ivanka, shod in too-high-for-D.C. stilettos. "But we're also talking to the greatest restaurateurs in the world, the greatest retailers in the world…." They’re also talking to Tiffany’s, she said, dangling the possibility of glitz in a downtown more accustomed to Ann Taylor.

When D.C. residents first heard that the Trumps were coming to town for the first time, a collective groan went up: This guy? The man who slaps his name on gaudy casinos, hosts absurdist reality TV shows, and still publicly doubts the citizenship of the guy who lives just a few blocks away, on the same street as the Old Post Office? 

It's becoming evident, though, that even Trump might be a boon to stodgy downtown D.C.—precisely because of the bloated ego that many Washingtonians find so distasteful. 

Trump, after four years slinging spitballs at the capital, seems to have made his peace with big government—or at least President Barack Obama's General Services Administration, which chose him for the project. "I have rarely met people more professional than the people at GSA. They just want this project to be great, and it's just so important to them," he said. "You hear about government, and you hear about government representatives and all. These people are as good as anybody I've ever dealt with."

And everything about the renovation, the father and daughter promised, would be superlative. The most beautiful ballrooms. A spectacular atrium. The finest hotel in the city, the country, the world. For the Trumps—or so they claim—it's about crafting a part of their legacy, not making money.

"This isn't return on investment. We're not even thinking about it," Trump said. "For us, Ivanka's going to have this long after I'm gone... And if it does a one-percent return, or a ten-percent return, or even a negative return for a little while, it's not even a factor, from an economic standpoint." When Jordan asked what he thought had been his smartest deal, Trump simply listed all of his properties. "Those are good deals. It allows me to make a stupid deal at the Old Post Office and spend too much money and that's OK… Would we do better if we spent less money and did a lesser building? The answer's probably less, but it's not what we want to do." 

In another city, that willingness to go overboard might result in typical Trump gaudiness. But the Old Post Office is the most heavily protected building he's had to deal with. Along with review by GSA, the designs will also have to be approved by the Commission on Fine Arts, which takes its charge to protect the dignity of U.S.'s architectural patrimony very seriously—no golden TRUMP sign will sully the facade. Also, all the improvements will be on public display; GSA required that fanny-packed tourists be allowed to take the elevator up the clock tower, as they have for decades. Trump, regulated, could be an excellent thing: Downtown gets his $200 million, while diligent oversight keeps his hubris in check.

Having Trump interested in the fortunes of the local real-estate market could also slay some sacred cows. After more than a century, D.C. is seriously considering lifting its 12-story height limit. While Ivanka said she wouldn't support many taller buildings around the Post Office—wouldn't want to dilute her land values—Donald let his pro-growth priorities shine through. "I'm in favor of development, and that would include height," he said.

There are a few aging properties that might pique Trump's interest—the FBI is looking to leave its crumbling, notoriously ugly J. Edgar Hoover Building, and then there’s the Washington Post's own creaky headquarters. In both cases, a Trump Tower might be an improvement.