Upscale Woodlands Inn bought by local attorney

'What I want y'all to be asking six months from now is, ‘What's going on at Woodlands?'?' said new owner Johnny Linton, congratulated Wednesday by Woodlands member and friend Jan Martin.

Summerville -- The town's most storied property, Woodlands Inn, changed hands Wednesday from Black Entertainment Television co-founder and Washington-area billionaire Sheila Crump Johnson to local attorney Johnny Linton.

Johnson's Salamander Hospitality remains the management company for the inn off Parsons Road. Neither party disclosed the terms of the deal.

A trial lawyer with the Broad Street firm Duffy & Young, Linton, 62, and his family moved to Summerville more than 20 years ago. At an announcement in the Woodlands' dining room, with classical music playing lightly in the background, Linton said he hoped to grow an "artisans' village" at the 1906 mansion.

That goal starts with showcasing 17 oil-on-canvas paintings by contemporary impressionist Rick Reinert, whom Linton called the Woodlands'

"artist in residence." The new owner wants to bring in sweetgrass basket weavers, canoe makers, singers and pianists, fly fishermen and chefs who live in town.

"What I want y'all to be asking six months from now is, 'What's going on at Woodlands?' " Linton said.

The new ownership comes after major changes at the only property in the state that holds the Forbes Five Star and the AAA Five Diamond ratings for accommodations and dining. Travel + Leisure readers consistently rank the Woodlands among their favorite places around the country and across the world.

At the Wednesday announcement, Mayor Berlin G. Myers called the property "a landmark of Summerville that's been here since I've been here, and that's a long time."

Johnson purchased the inn in 2006 and, within the first few years, set about replacing the wallpaper and "English country garden" feel with modern earth tones and flat-screen televisions.

General Manager Casey Lavin, a former food and beverage director at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, took over in March and launched a campaign to make the Woodlands less intimidating while maintaining the quality of its product.

Nearly 1,000 people came out for a picnic-style Fourth of July celebration this year. Occupancy rates at the Woodlands remain strong, with several recent weekends booked solid, despite the usual August slowdown, staff members said.

Prem Devadas, president of Salamander Hospitality, said Linton's ownership only furthers Johnson's goal of bringing the Summerville community back to Woodlands.

"It's not just a local owner," Devadas said. "It's this local owner."

Linton serves on the Trident United Way's board of directors and executive committee, as vice chairman of Pinewood Preparatory School's board of directors and on the board of the Coastal Community Foundation.

He became a Woodlands club member 15 years ago and first considered the purchase after holding a dinner for fellow 1975 University of South Carolina law school alumni at the inn in May.

After the dinner, Devadas contacted Linton and shared with him Johnson's vision for a local owner. Linton characterizes what followed as "not negotiations but discussions."

The transfer brings with it no staffing changes, and the price point for a room also stays fixed at starting rates of $229 a night.

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or abird@postandcourier.com.