Years of legal battles later, Bennett Hospitality announces Marion Square hotel

Developer Michael Bennett shows Mayor Joe Riley a model of the eight-story $101 million hotel he’s building next to Marion Square.

Charleston developer Michael Bennett vows that his latest and most ambitious project will pass the 100-year test.

It’s already been 10 years since he unveiled plans for a hotel at Marion Square. A decade of planning and a state Supreme Court ruling later, Bennett is finally ready to start construction.

Still unnamed, his eight-story upscale hotel at 404 King St. will cost more than $101 million and take more than two years to complete.

It will have 185 guest rooms, underground parking and a variety of amenities, including shops, a luxury spa, rooftop lounge, a restaurant overlooking the park and a “pink marble ladies social bar,” according to a written statement.

The high-profile project kicked off Monday with a groundbreaking ceremony. Bennett said he expects crews to start driving the first pilings as early as Wednesday. The projected opening date is August 2017,

The developer, a Charleston native whose Bennett Hospitality owns 16 hotels and eight restaurants, mostly in the Southeast, described the full-service Marion Square lodging as the “biggest project of my life.” He said he’s aiming to develop “the finest privately built building in our city’s recent history.”

“I believe that, and that is my goal,” he told more then 200 onlookers at the site near King and Hutson streets. “It’s got beautiful limestone, marble bronze and copper. It will be built the way they built buildings a hundred years ago.”

Bennett, whose first hotel project was the nearby Hampton Inn on Meeting Street in the early 1990s, recalled some advice he heeded from Mayor Joe Riley years ago.

“He would always say, ‘Take the hundred-year view,’” Bennett said. “‘Take the hundred-year view.’ What does that mean? Well, if you want it here in 100 years, build it, and if you don’t think you want it here in 100 years, don’t build it. Take that hundred-year view. Do it right. Good materials. A hundred years. I drank that Kool-Aid.”

He said the project is expected to support about 350 jobs.

Riley said the prominent site — bordering King Street and the “exquisite” Marion Square — demands an important “civic” landmark building that will “energize the public realm.”

“The use here was extremely important,” Riley said, adding, “A full-service hotel is a building that citizens in the city use and connect with and memories are developed there.”

Bennett has owned the site for 21 years. It formerly housed the main branch of the Charleston County Public Library. He announced the hotel plans in 2004.

Bennett recalled the struggles he went through to get approval for the project. Preservationists sued over a zoning change that allowed a taller building on the site. The S.C. Supreme Court ruled in Bennett’s favor about 18 month ago. He said he’s been working on the design details since then.

Bennett gave a nod to his mother, Virginia Bennett, and included her in an anecdote to articulate how much time the hotel required to come together. He said then that whenever Riley saw her at a parade or other event, the mayor would assure her the Marion Square project would start soon.

“He started telling her that when she was ... 83. . ... This year she turned 93 and said, ‘I’m putting my foot down,’” Bennett said.

The $101 million project works out to about $546,000 a room, which Bennett said isn’t unusual for a full-service luxury lodging. It is likely the most expensive hotel to be built on the peninsula since the 440-room Omni, now Belmond Charleston Place, opened farther south at King, Market, Meeting and Hasell streets in 1986.

“This just wasn’t me being stubborn,” Bennett said. “We went to 13 public hearings. ... We went to City Council. We went to our neighborhood groups. We went to our friends up and down King Street. Everyone wanted this hotel ... and we were determined to deliver it.”

John McDermott of The Post and Courier contributed to this report. Reach Allison Prang at 937-5705 or on Twitter @AllisonPrang.