Tourism & Cruises

President Trump’s G-7 gift to his Doral resort: a Miami moment on the world stage

Business hasn’t been stellar at the Trump Doral since its mogul owner entered politics, so Thursday’s announcement that President Donald Trump was staging a global economic summit at his suburban resort means a historic moment for Miami and a surge of off-season business for the lagging property.

The G-7 summit would mark Miami’s debut as a stage for truly global diplomacy, rather than its more traditional role as a convening spot of choice for the Western Hemisphere. The G-7 involves the heads of state for the world’s allied economic powerhouses, including France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom.

The nations rotate hosting duties, and Trump himself said early on he was interested in the United States inviting the nations to his 643-room golf resort, said Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff. Though local authorities said they never were involved in a vetting process, Mulvaney said White House event planners screened a dozen potential sites.

“It became apparent at the end of that process that Doral was by far and away the best physical facility for this meeting,” Mulvaney told White House reporters Thursday morning. “In fact, I was talking to one of the advance teams when they came back and I said what was it like. He said, ‘Mick, you’re not going to believe this, but it’s almost like they built this facility to host this type of event.’”

Records requests to the city of Doral, the office of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and local police surfaced no evidence of any communication from Washington about the potential for hosting the most high-profile diplomatic event in Miami’s history.

“Nada. Zilch,” Miami-Dade police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta said of the agency’s communications with the Trump administration about a possible summit. The county’s tax-funded tourism bureau typically plays a central role in reserving hotel-room blocs for major events, including December’s Art Basel and the Super Bowl, which is coming to Miami Gardens in February.

But for the G-7 in June, the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau said it learned the event was coming from the news on Thursday.

“I haven’t even looked at what’s on the books that month,” said bureau president Bill Talbert.

A Gimenez spokeswoman said the White House contacted the county mayor about 45 minutes before the announcement. Thursday night, Gimenez said he spoke to Trump himself during a call the president made to the mayor when Hurricane Dorian threatened Miami on Aug. 30. “He said he was thinking about holding it in Miami-Dade, and I said we would be honored and that we would assist in any way possible,” said Gimenez, who is considering a run for Congress as a Republican. “I also told him we had experience with hosting large events.”

The city of Doral confirmed its potential as G-7 host city when it called the Secret Service’s Miami office four months ago after reading a news item about the possibility, Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez said. A follow-up call with the White House, along with President Trump’s own strong hints that Doral was the choice, prompted the city to assign an extra $270,000 to the city’s police budget to cover security costs tied to the summit.

“When they reached out to us, we understood they felt very strongly it should be here,” Bermudez said of the Trump administration.

Trump has been floating the idea of a Doral summit for months, adding the G-7 event to the growing list of presidential activities overlapping with the president’s hospitality portfolio. The Trump Organization bought the former Marriott out of bankruptcy in 2012, rebranding it as a Trump property after an extensive renovation.

“It’s right next to the airport, meaning a few minutes away,” Trump said at the end of the last G-7 summit in August, when asked about the possibility of the 2020 event heading for Doral. “It’s a great place. It’s got tremendous acreage. ... We can handle whatever happens. People are really liking it. Plus, it has buildings that have 50 to 75 units in them, so each delegation can have its own building. ... It’s very big, a great conference facility.”

“And it’s Miami. Doral, Miami,” Trump continued. “So it’s a great area.”

Miami has played host to presidential summits and diplomatic gatherings, but those events centered around the Americas. The most disruptive was the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas, a gathering of trade ministers that brought throngs of protesters and police to downtown Miami. In 1994, Bill Clinton and 33 heads of state from Chile, Peru and the other countries in the Western Hemisphere gathered for the three-day Summit of the Americas conference at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.

A G-7 summit would bring Miami to another level as a diplomatic venue, as it would play host to heads of state from leading economies across the world: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.

“It’s definitely a first,” said former Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, “because of the importance of the G-7.”

The notion of the president granting his own resort a global summit hosted by the government he runs has added fuel to the broader complaint that Trump is making money off his tenure in office. House Democrats last month announced a probe of White House decision-making on the G-7 summit as part of their inquiry into whether Trump is violating constitutional restrictions against accepting gifts from foreign governments.

The premise of the inquiry is that the summit would obligate foreign governments to pay for lodging and food that the Trump Doral would be selling them — money that makes its way up the ladder at the Trump Organization and eventually into the coffers of Trump himself. In his 2018 financial disclosure form required by the federal government, Trump stated he took in $76 million from the hotel and golf courses there.

On Thursday, Mulvaney tried to blunt the criticism by revealing the Trump Organization planned to put on the summit “at cost,” offering discounts to Washington that made the Doral “dramatically cheaper” as a summit location than other sites considered in Utah, Hawaii and elsewhere.

“There’s no profit here,” Mulvaney said. “He’s not making any money off of this just like he’s not making any money off of working here.”

Republicans in Florida praised the economic boost Trump was delivering with the summit location choice, while Democrats described scandal.

“Anytime you bring all these foreign leaders from the seven largest economies in the world to Florida I’m going to be for it,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from West Miami. “And a lot of people are going to benefit from it because there’s no way that the hotel can accommodate” the press, staff and other contingents that follow a summit to town.

“Instead of picking a location based on security priorities ... the President once again chose to use his office to enrich himself and help his failing businesses,” Miami-Dade’s Democratic Party said in a statement.

The landmark event for the Trump Doral follows a string of setbacks and bad publicity for Miami-Dade’s fifth largest resort, a suburban cluster of hotel facilities, ballrooms and four golf courses.

Amid controversy over Trump’s harsh remarks about Mexicans crossing the border illegally during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Doral resort’s signature golf tournament bolted for a new sponsorship deal that took it to Mexico. Once Trump won the White House, the hotel reported a sales slowdown compared to competitors.

A November 2018 report analyzing debt backed by the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach showed the Trump Doral as the lowest performing property among the six analyzed. While the average Fontainebleau room in 2017 produced $248 a day in revenue, the Trump Doral generated just $110 a day. The average for the set was $180 a day.

Last year, a consultant working for the Trump Doral to lower the property’s tax bill with Miami-Dade produced documents showing the resort trailing its competitors.

Profits from the resort fell nearly 70 percent from 2015 to 2017, according to evidence provided by consultant Jessica Vachiratevanurak. She told Miami-Dade County that the resort was “severely under-performing” and blamed the downfall on “some negative connotation associated with the brand.” The county agreed to drop the resort’s value for 2018 from $110.3 million to $105.6 million. This year the Trump Organization has again appealed Miami-Dade’s assessment of its value.

Trump himself has shown a decline in the resort’s performance, too. While his 2018 disclosure showed him earning $76 million from the Trump Doral, that was down from $116 million in 2016.

In his press conference, Mulvaney said he was aware picking the president’s hotel for the president’s summit would open up the White House to “political criticism” of self-dealing. But he also dismissed the idea that bringing the G-7 to Doral would be a boon. “Donald Trump’s brand is probably strong enough as it is,” he said. He doesn’t need any help on that. It’s the most recognizable name in the English language, and probably around the world right now.”

Miami Herald staff writers Alex Daugherty and Samantha Gross contributed to this report.

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Doug Hanks covers Miami-Dade government for the Herald. He’s worked at the paper for nearly 20 years, covering real estate, tourism and the economy before joining the Metro desk in 2014.
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Taylor Dolven covers the tourism industry at the Miami Herald, where she aims to tell stories about the people who work in tourism and the people who enjoy it. Previously, she worked at Vice News in Brooklyn, NY, where she won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of NY for a national investigation of police shootings.
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