Charleston developer Michael Bennett has set a fall 2017 opening for the luxury hotel he's building near Marion Square, and he's hired a company whose name is well known in local hospitality circles to run it.
Sheila Johnson's Salamander Hotels & Resorts will manage the 179-room Hotel Bennett near King and Calhoun streets, it was announced Thursday.
“A luxury hotel in the best location in the best city in the world should have the best team,” Bennett said in a statement.
Salamander, based in Middleburg, Va., at one time owned the former Woodlands Resort & Inn in Summerville. Its president is Prem Devadas, who led Kiawah Island Golf Resort for more a decade and helped spearhead the development of the Sanctuary hotel.
Johnson, a billionaire who was a co-founder of BET, started her hospitality business in 2005. She also is vice chairman of Monumental Sports, which owns the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
“We are delighted to have the rare opportunity to team with Michael Bennett and his family to operate what will become one of the finest hotels in America,” Johnson said in a statement.
Bennett has developed a number of hotels and restaurants in the Charleston area and elsewhere, and he has other projects in the works.
Getting this particular deal off the ground proved to be a long battle.
Bennett first unveiled plans for the nine-story property on the site of the old Charleston County Library in 2007. The city approved a rezoning to allow the 105-foot height.
While the Francis Marion Hotel across King Street stands 12 stories tall, preservationists argued Bennett's project hotel would overshadow Marion Square, a public park, and sued the city over the zoning decision. The state Supreme Court settled the dispute in October 2012.
Plans had to go through the approval process again, and the project finally got started in April 2015. Bennett projected at the time that the hotel would open in August 2017, but the historic flooding of October 2015 and Hurricane Matthew this fall delayed work, Bennett said.
“There have been a few delays, so it might be a little bit behind schedule,” he said Thursday. “But when you’re taking a 100-year view, what’s a few months’ difference?”
At the groundbreaking about 18 months ago, he said he was building a structure that would be memorable a century later. The materials include limestone, copper and cypress. The bar being built off the lobby incorporates pink marble that was in the old library.
“This will be the five-star luxury hotel in downtown Charleston,” Bennett said Thursday. “I believe it will be finest hotel ever built in our city, certainly ever built in my lifetime.”
If the hotel were to open now, rooms would run between $500 and $600 a night, he said. He’s spending about $105 million building it, which comes out to about $550,000 per key, he said.
The market will determine the rates when the property opens next year, Bennett said. Prices in downtown Charleston have been moving steadily upward as the city has become a more prominent international tourist destination.
Mayor John Tecklenburg said the new full-service hotel will be "a gathering place for generations of Charleston residents."