CINCINNATI -- Is the Trump family really pursuing a hotel deal in Cincinnati? That question could take months to answer with certainty.
But there is a Downtown hotel that was recently sold to a (so far) unnamed buyer by a Cincinnati family with ties to President Donald Trump.
The Cincinnatian Hotel was owned for 14 years by the Lindner family, whose Mar-a-Lago wedding Trump crashed with Japan’s Prime Minister in February.
Granted, that’s a lot of dots to connect.
But Oakley Station developer Rob Smyjunas said the Cincinnatian could be the quickest path for Trump Hotels to enter the Cincinnati hotel market. Smyjunas is known mostly as a retail developer, but he’s studied the Cincinnati hotel market while pursuing real estate deals in the city’s urban core.
“The Cincinnatian is a true representation of the class of the (Trump) brand because of that building’s beauty and history,” said Smyjunas, owner of Vandercar Holdings LLC.
It’s also a boutique hotel with 139 rooms that already compete for nightly room rates in the same price range as the Scion chain, about $200 to $300.
American Financial Group confirmed that the Cincinnatian was sold, but did not respond to questions about this topic.
WCPO asked Trump Hotels if it is “involved as an investor or licensor in the Cincinnatian purchase?” Spokeswoman Lesley Duckworth responded via email: “We do not have a signed agreement and are unable to comment.”
Downtown has already seen a surge in hotel development, with 983 new rooms added since 2011 and 276 more under construction. Although revenue and occupancy rates have remained stable with the growth, the Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau has launched a formal lobbying campaign to expand the Duke Energy Convention Center.
“We must address the fact that our center remains the smallest in our (competitive) set,” CEO Dan Lincoln told the crowd at the CVB’s annual meeting March 14. “Ten years ago, we completed a wonderful renovation. But the reality is that we haven’t really expanded the convention center in more than 30 years.”
The center’s expansion could further stimulate hotel investment Downtown, making now a good time for the Trump family – and others – to buy in.
Trump brands hunt licensing deals
Associated Press reported this week that Trump Hotels is looking to expand luxury Scion chain by signing letters of intent with more than 20 developers who would foot bill for construction.
The licensing deals are intended to produce hotels with “modern, sleek interiors” and room rates of up to $300 a night. Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger identified Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Louisville as three towns where developers have struck preliminary agreements to expand the Scion brand.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Downtown would be the place,” said Jim O’Connell, executive managing director for Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate brokerage whose listings include the former Terrace Plaza hotel on Sixth Street.
“Boy, the Terrace Plaza could be a perfect fit, especially if they’re going after the sleek modern look,” he said. Although half of the 75 potential buyers who’ve requested sales brochures on the property indicated they want to retain the hotel, vacant since 2008, O’Connell doesn’t know whether the Trump family is connected to any potential buyer.
O’Connell thinks the Netherland Plaza could also work for the Scion brand.
“It’s gorgeous but getting tired,” he said. “It’s big. It’s a hotel. It’s in Downtown Cincinnati and it’s been theoretically available.”
The Millennium Hotel is another property that could be in flux. City leaders have been prodding owner Millennium & Copthorne Hotels PLC to renovate the 846-room property, which is next door to Duke Energy Center and key to landing big conventions.
Hoping to get the project unstuck, Smyjunas commissioned renderings of what a Millennium renovation might look like. He declined to comment on the effort. But he did float yet another potential site for a new hotel, one that could help solidify the Downtown Macy’s store.
“If they’re going to build a new hotel and they want to be in the thick of everything, then truly the best location for the brand would be to place it at Fountain Square above Macy’s as part of a tower redevelopment,” he said.