Pandemic takes toll on Trump properties while President golfs at one
By Kara Scannell, Cat Gloria and Austen Bundy, CNN
President Donald Trump golfed this weekend at his Virginia country club, signaling to the nation that it should start returning to normal.
In Florida, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort partially reopened last weekend with social distancing measures in place including spacing sun loungers 6 feet apart on its pool deck, and at least four of the President’s family-owned golf courses in the US have opened their links in recent weeks.
Members have welcomed the return.
One golfer posted a video of himself on Instagram in early May taking a swing from the tees at the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter. Another posted a photo that same week that shows endless green hills and very few people at the Trump National Doral Miami.
So have the President, and the company he built. “Game on! We are thrilled to announce the reopening of @trumpgolfla,” the Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles tweeted earlier this month to celebrate its reopening.
The President retweeted the news, adding, “So great to see our Country starting to open up again!”
The coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders have hit all corners of the economy, including the Trump Organization.
This month the Trump Organization permanently laid off 250 employees at its hotel and golf resort in Doral, Florida, according to a new filing with the state. That accounts for about 45% of the 560 employees at the resort who were initially laid off temporarily, or furloughed, in March.
“It now appears that the adverse effects of the Covid-19 outbreak upon our business will be longer and more substantial than previously was foreseeable,” wrote David Feder, managing director of the Trump Miami Resort Management, in a letter filed with the state. “As a result, we have made the difficult decision that some of the temporary indefinite furloughs that began on or about March 19, 2020 will become permanent employment separations effective May 15, 2020.”
The layoffs come as Trump has cajoled state governors and cheered on protesters who rallied for reopening the economy at the same time his administration’s health officials have urged caution in lifting stay-at-home orders to avoid a second wave of the coronavirus as the death toll in the US nears 100,000 lives.
Unlike other businesses, the Trump Organization is owned by the President and controlled by his sons, underscoring conflict-of-interest concerns that have run throughout Trump’s presidency.
As a private company, the Trump Organization isn’t required to disclose how the pandemic has impacted its businesses, but a review of public records filed with county and state governments and interviews with people familiar with the company provide a glimpse into how it has weathered the economic storm.
The Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment, including a detailed list of questions.
In total, the Trump Organization has furloughed or temporarily laid off more than 2,100 employees, including dishwashers, servers, cooks and valet attendants, since March, according to public records filed with states where its businesses are located.
The family-owned business has also sought relief from lenders and landlords on some loans and lease payments. It has postponed a sale of the lease of its Washington, DC, hotel and temporarily closed some of its properties as required by state orders.
While the Trump Organization has sought economic relief from various agencies for some businesses, it is looking to grow others. The company filed in late February for construction permits to expand its winery in Charlottesville, Virginia.
As states implemented stay-at-home orders, the Trump Organization felt the impact at its hotels and golf courses.
In late March and early April, the Trump Organization began temporary layoffs across multiple properties.
At Mar-a-Lago, the company furloughed 153 employees, including 11 dishwashers, 32 servers and 19 valet attendants, according to a filing with the state.
The Trump National Golf Club Washington, DC, laid off 102 employees, while 92 workers were furloughed at the Trump property in Jupiter, Florida, and 117 people were laid off at the Los Angeles golf course. In New York, the Ferry Point golf course laid off 49 employees, according to state filings.
Hotels were also hit. While the Trump Organization never closed its hotel in Washington, it has laid off the “overwhelming majority” of its employees, about 160 people, according to John Boardman, the executive secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 25, the hotel and casino union representing employees at the 263-room Trump Hotel in DC. He estimates the hotel is “operating around a 1-2% occupancy rate, which would mean they’re at somewhere below 10 rooms a night.”
In New York, the Trump International Hotel & Tower on Central Park, which is still open, laid off 70 workers, according to state records. The Chicago hotel, which is also open, has furloughed 294 employees and the Trump hotel near the Las Vegas Strip, which is closed by state orders, has furloughed 552 employees, according to state records.
The unionized employees at the Las Vegas hotel have allegedly not been paid since mid-March, but the union negotiated for their health care to continue, according to Bethany Khan, director of communications and digital strategy for UNITE HERE Culinary Workers Union Local 226. She added that the employees will be recalled to work by order of seniority when the property opens .
The Trump Organization also asked for relief on loans and lease payments.
The company made an informal request to Deutsche Bank for relief on interest payments it owes on some of the $300 million in loans underwritten by the bank, according to a person familiar with the banking relationship. It isn’t clear if any relief was granted. The loan places Deutsche in an awkward position of being subject to regulatory oversight by the President’s administration while having the President as a major client. A spokesman for DB declined to comment.
In Florida, the financial director of Trump’s Florida properties, Ed Raymundo, inquired twice about rent relief for the West Palm Beach golf course due to the pandemic, according to email correspondence filed with Palm Beach County. Raymundo first made the request via email in March, then a month later sent a letter with a similar message. Despite the asks, the Trump Organization paid the rent in full, according to county records. Raymundo declined to comment.
Congress prohibited Trump-owned properties from seeking relief through one of the US government programs, the Paycheck Protection Program, but those conditions don’t apply outside of the US. Bloomberg News reported that the Trump Organization sought relief for golf courses in the United Kingdom.
“Like millions of businesses around the globe, we have been forced by Government mandate to temporarily close our hospitality and leisure facilities, and are doing all that we can to retain and support our highly valued staff,” Eric Trump said in an April statement about the UK request.
“The job retention plan created by the UK Government has nothing to do with the Trump Organization and does not benefit the business — it is solely about protecting people and their families who would otherwise be out of work. We are anxiously awaiting the day that we receive approval from the government to reopen our doors and look forward to getting back to business,” Eric Trump said.
In the US, the company made a similar request to the General Services Administration, a federal agency that owns the lease to its Washington hotel, according to The New York Times.
Eric Trump told The New York Times, which first reported the requests to Deutsche Bank, West Palm Beach and the GSA, that the company wanted any relief that other businesses might be receiving. “Just treat us the same,” he told the Times last month, “Whatever that may be is fine.”
The GSA said in a letter to lawmakers that the Trump Organization did not receive any relief because it didn’t make a written request, as required under recently issued guidance.
Last fall the Trump Organization reportedly took a step to untangle itself from some controversy surrounding its ownership of the DC hotel by putting the lease on the marquee property up for sale. But plans to sell the lease have been placed on hold.
Jeffrey Davis, a senior managing director at JLL Hotels & Hospitality Group, which was tasked with the sale, declined to comment to CNN. He told the Wall Street Journal, “Both The Trump Organization and JLL look forward to re-engaging with all investors and the many world brands who toured this incredible hotel once this pandemic is behind us.”
Vineyard expansion and reopening
About a month before the Trump Organization furloughed workers, in late February, an engineering firm working for the Trump Organization filed for a construction permit with Albemarle County officials in Virginia to expand a warehouse on its winery’s property.
The packets filed with the county include maps detailing a disturbance of more than an acre of land, storm and drainage plans. The work was valued at just over $1 million, according to a county spokesperson, who also said an initial plan had been denied but a new plan has been resubmitted and is in the queue for review.
Earlier this month, as states eased their closure rules, several Trump Organization golf properties partially reopened, including the Trump Doral in Florida, the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and the Trump National Golf Club Washington, DC, in Potomac Falls, Virginia. The golf course in Los Angeles opened this month, along with Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s winter White House.
Others remain closed, including the hotel in Las Vegas and a golf course in the Bronx, New York.
Colin Igoe, director of golf at Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, told CNN they’re waiting for New York City officials to give them the green light.
“We have a plan for opening; it’s just a matter of the city opening up their city golf courses. Whenever they give us the OK, we will reopen,” Igoe said.
More properties are expected to reopen in the coming weeks. The Trump hotel in Las Vegas has begun accepting reservations for June, according to its website, and on Friday the governor of Nevada said casinos could reopen as soon as June 4 if coronavirus trends continue to decline.
How quickly people will travel for business or pleasure is a big unknown.
“Our industry is one of first line items in business budgets to get cut and generally the last line item added back into a budget when things are getting better,” said Boardman, of the union representing workers at the Trump Hotel in DC. “Right now, it’s anybody’s guess as to what we look like this summer or in the fall.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the number of employees who were initially laid off temporarily at the Trump Organization’s hotel and golf resort in Doral, Florida.