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story.lead_photo.caption This Comfort Inn hotel in Cleveland, Miss., is slated to be part of the America Idea chain.

Shortly after Donald Trump entered the White House, his eldest sons announced ambitious plans to open a line of hotels called Scion that would target young, hip customers mostly in places where their father had proved popular with voters.

The first Scion would open in the Mississippi Delta in early 2018. A second line of hotels, called American Idea, would soon follow, with three in Mississippi and more than a dozen elsewhere. In all, the Trump Organization said it had preliminary agreements to open 39 properties.

This was the brothers' primary and boldest idea for expanding the family business -- a push into markets that it had long overlooked, they said.

A year and a half later, progress has been slow. The first Scion, in Cleveland, Miss., remains nearly a year from completion. The first two American Idea hotels, in the same area, will not open until later this year.

And no projects outside of Mississippi have publicly materialized, giving Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump little to celebrate following a two-year stretch overseeing their father's business. During that time, the company became the target of federal court cases and lost deals in some markets after partners complained about the brand.

Mississippi businessman Dinesh Chawla and his brother Suresh, owners of 18 hotels in the Gulf Coast region, announced their deal with the Trumps in a glitzy reception at Trump Tower in June 2017. The Chawlas would develop and own the Scion; the Trumps would brand and manage it.

"Eric and I got a great crash course in America over the last two years," Donald Trump Jr. said to the crowd of about 500 at the reception. "We saw so many places and so many towns and heard so many stories that were so touching. People that were so excited about the prospect of this country and Americana in general."

The plans for Mississippi remain. But Chawla says that, at the direction of Trump Organization executives, he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and the better part of a year reworking the Scion so it will be capable of attracting meetings, concerts and festivals to Cleveland.

Eventually the 100-room hotel, half-completed on a 17-acre site, will be surrounded by 10 other buildings for restaurants and event space in a complex costing more than $20 million. Chawla estimated he would spend $5 million more than he originally planned.

"They looked at all our plans, and they liked the basic layout of the hotel, but they did not find our meeting space functional," Chawla said. "They worked with us around how it could be restructured."

Chawla, whose father grew up in a refugee camp in India before emigrating to Canada and then the United States, said he is pleased with the changes because, to succeed, the project needs to become a destination for tourists and business meetings. The starting room rates for Scion hotels are expected to run $200 to $300 a night.

While the area attracts tourists in search of blues music, three other hotels are in the works in Cleveland, even though the town -- surrounded by soybean and cotton fields -- is home to just 15,800 people.

Local tourism officials are bullish on the property, located less than a mile from the Grammy Museum that opened in 2016 and Delta State University.

"I think it'll draw people in, having a nice hotel. We've seen over the last three or four years a boost to tourism with the Grammy Museum," said Judson Thigpen, executive director of the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce.

SundayMonday Business on 01/06/2019

Print Headline: New Trump hotels slow to start


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