Hotel Bennett on Marion Square

Developer Michael Bennett speaks during the grand opening of the Hotel Bennett next to Marion Square on Friday. His vision of a building grand hotel on the site of the former downtown library took almost 25 years from start to finish. Brad Nettles/Staff

For the last 13 years, Joe Riley, Charleston's longest-serving mayor, has said they would do it. 

"We're going to cut that ribbon," was Riley's refrain, Charleston developer Michael Bennett recalled.

Bennett's mother, Virginia, heard that from Riley at least once or twice a year, he said. 

On Friday, Bennett, along with at least 300 guests, including city officials, friends and family and local hospitality leaders, celebrated the opening of Hotel Bennett, a full-service luxury lodging in downtown Charleston. 

"This is even more special than I thought it would be," Bennett said as he addressed the crowd that filled the rows of chairs lined up along Marion Square and spilled onto the hotel's outdoor terrace. 

The phrase "civic monument" was mentioned several times as both Charleston's current mayor, John Tecklenburg, and Riley touted the property's significance. 

Tecklenburg described its location as a "nexus of history and activity."

A few members from the Sumter Guards and Washington Light Infantry — which, according to the city's lease agreement, are to use the central portion of Marion Square for their parade grounds forever — served as the color guard for the ceremony.

It was the square's historic significance that prompted a lawsuit from local preservationists more than a decade ago. They feared the eight-story hotel was too tall. 

That legal battle — which was eventually won by the city and Bennett after reaching the state Supreme Court — took a similar resolve, Riley said, to his own fight to build what is now Belmond Charleston Place in the 1980s. 

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Riley described the city's new full-service hotel as a "priceless civic gift."

Tecklenburg added: "You've created the crown for hospitality in Charleston."

A nod to its location on King Street, the hotel's symbol is a crown, and the image appears in small details throughout the hotel, like embroidery on the guest room pillows. 

Hotel Bennett on Marion Square

Developer Mike Bennett (third from left), family members and guests cut the ceremonial ribbon for the city's newest luxury hotel. Brad Nettles/Staff

Helen Hill, the CEO of Explore Charleston; the hotel's managing director, Paul Cherrett; and Sheila Johnson, the founder of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, which is managing Hotel Bennett, also spoke before the crowd was led inside for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. 

Lined up along the entrance to the hotel's grand lobby, Bennett stood next to his mother as they, at last, cut that ribbon. 

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and employment. She is also the author of the weekly Business Headlines newsletter. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.