Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida partially reopens after coronavirus lockdown

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club will partially reopen to members this weekend as South Florida slowly reopens from the coronavirus lockdown.

An email sent Thursday to members says the Palm Beach resort’s Beach Club restaurant, its pool and its whirlpool will reopen Saturday after being closed two months, but its main building that includes hotel rooms, the main dining area and the president’s private residence will remain closed.

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Members will have to practice social distancing and lounge chairs will be set 6 feet (2 metres) apart. They will have to bring their own towels.

The email was first reported by The Washington Post. The Trump Organization did not return a call seeking comment and a security guard who answered at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday afternoon said no administrators were available.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close ally of the president, has been slowly allowing the state to reopen, with the hard-hit counties of South Florida trailing the rest of the state.

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Restaurants in Palm Beach County, like most of the state, can operate at 25 per cent capacity indoors and must maintain 6 feet (2 metres) between tables outdoors. DeSantis is expected to soon boost the capacity limit to 50 per cent. Bars and nightclubs are closed.

Mar-a-Lago executives told Florida officials last month that it was temporarily laying off 153 workers because of the shutdown, a decision the president defended at the time.

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“You can’t have many hundreds of employees standing around doing nothing,” he said April 21. “There’s no customer. You’re not allowed to have a customer.”

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The federal government’s economic relief bill specifically bars Trump’s businesses, as well as those with ties to other top government officials and members of Congress and their immediate families, from receiving emergency loans and other benefits meant to help businesses retain workers during the pandemic.

Palm Beach County has had nearly 4,300 confirmed COVID-19 cases since early March and at least 263 deaths.

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As of 2018, Mar-a-Lago’s approximately 500 members paid $14,000 annual dues for access to the 17-acre (6.9-hectare) estate, with new members paying a $200,000 initiation fee that doubled after Trump’s 2016 election. Members pay extra to dine and stay on the property.

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Trump purchased Mar-a-Lago — “the world’s most celebrated private club,” according to its website — from the foundation of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1985 for $10 million and has invested tens of millions of dollars improving the property. He opened it as a club in 1995.

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The property now boasts 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, a 20,000-square-foot (1,858-square-meter) ballroom, tennis and croquet courts and three bomb shelters.

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Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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