Reuters International

Flags fly above the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel on it's opening day in Washington September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was set to open the latest outpost in his real estate empire on Monday, a luxury hotel in a historic building five blocks from the White House that underwent a two-year, $200 million renovation.

While staff at the 263-room Trump International Hotel planned little hoopla for what they described as a "soft opening," about a dozen protesters opposed to the New York real estate developer's presidential run gathered outside. The opening comes eight weeks before the Nov. 8 election.

"It kind of fits his personality that he finds a way to be on Pennsylvania Avenue, one way or another," said protester Judy Byron, 70, a Washington artist.

The hotel is at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, and the White House address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The hotel is housed in Washington's third-tallest building, the 1899 Old Post Office, built in the Romanesque Revival architectural style.

The protesters criticized some of Trump's positions, including a promise to build a wall along the Mexican border to block illegal immigrants. Protest organizer Andrew Castro of Baltimore said, "We're out here building a wall against racism."

Trump said on Twitter on Monday that he had made a brief stop at the property "to thank all of the tremendous men & women for their hard work!"

A grand-opening ceremony is planned for next month, but the first guests were due to check in on Monday.

Trump attended the July 2014 groundbreaking for the renovations alongside local Democratic officials before launching his presidential campaign last year.

Trump's company holds a 60-year lease from the U.S. government for the property. It is paying $3 million-a-year in rent for the building, which fronts the parade route for presidential inaugurations.

Rooms will start at $396 a night, with suites starting at $556, according to the hotel's website.

While Trump's name is hard to escape in his native New York City, where it adorns structures including the lavish Trump Tower as well as Trump SoHo, Trump Parc, Trump Place and a recently opened Bronx golf course, the hotel marks his most visible presence in Washington.

As such, it became a target for protests early in Trump's campaign. His comments describing some Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers prompted celebrity chefs Jose Andres and Geoffrey Zakarian to pull out of the project. Trump has sued them.

A spokesman for the National Park Service said discussions were under way with the General Services Administration, which handles government real estate, over resumption of tours to the building's landmark tower.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Additional reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

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