NEWS- 'Minor' development: Danielson's hotel deal back on

A rendering of Lee Danielson's new hotel project as seen from Water Street beside LiveArts.

The likelihood that the Downtown Mall will be home to a nine-story luxury hotel has taken a giant step forward now that Lee Danielson is playing in the Minor league. No, he hasn't picked up a bat and ball. The California based developer who invigorated downtown Charlottesville with the Ice Park and the Regal Theater in the mid-1990s announced on Tuesday, September 4, that he has teamed with internet millionaire and CNET founder Halsey Minor to re-purchase the former Central Fidelity/Boxer Learning building at 200 East Main Street.

It's been a long road for Danielson, who first announced plans, shortly after a rancorous split from a business partner, for a project he called "Hotel Charlottesville" back in 2004.

In addition to plush hotel rooms, the design includes meeting space, a private dining club, and a high-end restaurant on the ground floor. Yet despite winning city support for the project, Danielson was never able to secure funding for the estimated $30 million project, and in 2006 the frustrated developer sold the property to fellow downtown developer Oliver Kuttner for $3.7 million. 

Its sale seemed to spell doom for the soaring hotel, since Kuttner planned a far more modest renovation of the existing two-story structure. But a glimmer of hope remained as Kuttner and Danielson maintained they'd both be happy to once again swap the 22,000-square-foot building if the price was right.

The right price was $4.5 million, an $800,ooo increase for Kuttner. Still, he says his profit was not so hefty. "I have a feeling I'm making less than $150,000 on the deal," says Kuttner, adding that even his preliminary planning costs on the building ran into the six figures. But even if the payoff wasn't huge, Kuttner says he's thrilled to see Danielson back in the mix.

"I think it will be a good thing for the City of Charlottesville," he says.

And he's not the only one who thinks so.

In February 2007, Danielson– who, like Minor, splits his time between Charlottesville and California– went back before the notoriously picky Board of Architectural Review seeking approval for his plans. He got it.

"They really did hit a home run with the design," said BAR vice-chair Syd Knight at the time, praising the work of architect Mark Hornberger, a high school chum of Danielson's best known for his work on the historic Hotel del Coronado in California and on San Francisco's ultra-sleek W hotel. 

"They were extremely sensitive to the three-story feel on the Mall," said Knight, adding, "So many buildings in town tend to be caricatures of Jeffersonian architecture, but this one does a good job of walking the line between the present and the past."

Danielson did not return the Hook's call before press time, and Minor was traveling on Tuesday and unavailable for interviews, according to Sara Belkowitz with the publicity firm Payne Ross & Associates, representing Minor Family Hotels LLC and Danielson's Hotel Charlottesville LLC.

While the basic design approved by the BAR will remain, the name of the 101-foot-tall hotel is still uncertain. In 2004, Danielson referred to it as The Landmark, while at February's hearing he called it The Beacon-Charlottesville, suggesting a link to a high-end South Beach, Florida hotel he developed called The Beacon. For now, according to Belkowitz, the hotel is once again referred to as The Hotel Charlottesville.

A groundbreaking ceremony and formal name announcement are slated for late October or early November, says Belkowitz, and completion of the hotel for spring 2009.

Lee Danielson