In a deal oozing with luxury, one of the largest, priciest and best-known hotels and business-meeting destinations in South Carolina is changing hands.
The company behind Belmond Charleston Place has agreed to be sold to the house of Christian Dior, TagHeuer and Sephora in a tie-up that will bring upscale travel and upscale shopping under one very fancy umbrella.
The purchase by LVMH Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy was announced earlier this month. It’s expected to be finalized by June 1.
Belmond Ltd. struck the $3.2 billion deal with the French buyer several months after embarking on a strategic review of its business. Board chairman Roland Hernandez said the sale process “attracted broad and deep interest” from real estate investors, hoteliers, sovereign wealth funds and other prospective buyers.
The winning offer “provides compelling and certain value for our shareholders as well as an exciting path forward with a group that appreciates Belmond’s irreplaceable assets and strong management team," he said in a statement.
LVMH, which already owns two small luxury lodging flags, is making a bigger push into what it describes as the upper crust of the "experiential" travel phenomena. The Belmond buyout will give it more than 40 trophy assets, including the famed Cipriani in Venice, the Copacabana Palace in Rio, as well as Charleston’s largest hotel.
Jean-Jacques Guiony, LVMH's finance chief, said the company pursued Belmond because “the future of luxury will be not only in luxury goods as it’s been for many, many years but also in luxury experiences. And we want to be in both segments, which is as simple as that.”
Belmond Charleston Place can claim more than a footnote in the revitalization that’s reshaped the Charleston peninsula. It was one of those rare and risky deals that changed the future and fortunes of an entire city.
Newcomers wouldn’t have recognized the King Street of the early 1980s, when shoppers were fleeing to the suburbs. An Atlanta magazine offered up a glum assessment in 1979: “Downtown Charleston, in many ways, epitomizes the decaying American city.”
By that point, then-Mayor Joe Riley was looking to recapture the lost foot traffic, clutching an old study that called for a major hotel on a blighted 3.5-acre city block at King, Market, Meeting and Hasell streets.
Controversial at first, "The Omni" was completed in 1986, opening a vital commercial lifeline between King Street and the more-heavily traveled City Market area. Some 32 years later, the property arguably remains a cornerstone of an economy where tourism is the No. 1 industry.
Belmond’s involvement dates back to 1995, when, operating as Orient-Express Hotels, it became an investor. The Omni name gave way to the generic Charleston Place. Belmond was added on in 2013.
LVHM said it expected to retain and "optimize" the Belmond name and to fold it into its portfolio of high-end brands, which includes Dom Perignon and Moet & Chandon.
“It’s very clear that there are a lot of cross-optimization that’s going to promote between our wine and spirit business and Belmond,” Guiony, the finance chief, said. “Some of the luxury hotels also have boutiques of luxury brands, so that’s another fairly obvious avenue. Client events, both Belmond clients or LVMH’s clients, could help each others’ locations.”
Riley was pleased to hear about the latest ownership change, saying the long-term goal of the Charleston property has always been about "excellence."
"It's a wonderful affirmation of the quality of Charleston Place and the quality of our city to attract a world-class designer and operator," he said Thursday.