Sino-US relations

Is this lavish US$200 million Florida estate where Xi and Trump will meet next month?

The Mar-a-Lago resort is US president’s gold-plated home away from home

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 3:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 5:59pm

The first summit between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump is expected be held next month at Trump’s lavish Mar-a-Lago estate, a palatial US$200 million estate in Florida that he has called the “Southern White House”.

US media portal Axios reported on Monday that Trump plans to host Xi at the Palm Beach estate on April 6 and 7.

Mar-a-Lago, a 128-room waterfront mansion, has become Trump’s go-to venue for hosting world leaders and appointing his own top officials.

Trump brought Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe there to play golf and dine with him in February, and last weekend marked the fourth consecutive one the US president has spent at Mar-a-Lago.

Trump to host Xi Jinping for two-day summit in Florida next month, report says

The upcoming Xi-Trump summit will be the third time a Chinese president visited his American counterpart at a resort or vacation home. Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama hosted Xi Jinping at Sunnylands, California in 2013, and George W. Bush brought Jiang Zemin to his private ranch in Texas in 2002.

But unlike those venues, Mar-a-Lago is a business – one owned by Trump, although he keeps a section of the resort private for the use of his family.

The property, covering some seven hectares, features 128 rooms and two pools, a spa, tennis and croquet courts and a beach. After Trump purchased the mansion, he added a Louis XIV-style ballroom with US$7 million worth of gold leaf on the walls and ceilings.

Mar-a-Lago made Trump US$15.6 million in 2014, according to The Washington Post.

Anyone can visit the estate as long as they can afford a membership, which went from US$100,000 to US$200,000 after Trump triumphed in the US election last November. There is also a US$14,000 annual fee. Members have access to more than 30 guest rooms, some costing more than US$1,000 a night.

However, Mar-a-Lago has helped sparked widespread controversy in the US over a conflict of interest between Trump’s roles as a real estate mogul and the president. The New York Times has reported that the estate’s membership roll includes “dozens of real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives” and others whose business is likely to be affected by Trump’s policies.

The Times also called Mar-a-Lago unprecedented in American history as the first presidential home “with customers paying a company owned by the president”.

The resort was always intended to be a presidential home by its founder, Marjorie Merriweather Post. The heiress to what would become General Foods, she was at one time the wealthiest woman in the US, and she built the mansion in 1927 at a cost of US$7 million.

Post, who had envisioned Mar-a-Lago as a winter White House where a president could find solitude and rest, left it to the US government when she died in 1973, along with the rest of her estate. But the government returned the resort to Post’s family in 1980 when the costs of its annual upkeep reached some US$1 million.

Then in 1985, Post’s daughters sold the estate to Trump for less than US$10 million including the furnishings, according to Fortune. A Vanity Fair report said moving to Palm Beach was the idea of Trump’s former wife, Ivana. After the couple divorced, Mar-a-Lago stayed with Trump.