NEWS- Mall rebirth? Danielson, Minor break ground on 'Landmark'
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, developer Lee Danielson (bottom left) has returned to the Downtown Mall, but this time he's brought a few wealthy and glamorous friends.
"It wasn't easy to get this started," said Danielson, following the March 11 groundbreaking for The Landmark Hotel (once Hotel Charlottesville, then the Landmark, then The Beacon, now the Landmark again), a $30 million 9-story luxury hotel scheduled to open in July 2009. "It's difficult to get people to believe in Charlottesville if they're not from Charlottesville."
Presumably, then, it wasn't that hard to get CNET founder Halsey Minor (upper left) to believe. Minor, owner and major investor in the project, was born in Charlottesville, and at today's ceremony he recalled his hometown roots.
"This is more of a family reunion than a groundbreaking," Minor told the small crowd of local luminaries and press folks, including mayor Dave Norris, vice-mayor Julian Taliaferro, John Paul Jones Arena manager Larry Wilson, and mega-developer Hunter Craig.
Minor recalled buying his first baseball glove at Downtown Athletic, and he told the story of his great-great grandfather, John B. Minor, one of the first law professors at UVA, who, Minor said, convinced an advancing Northern army not to burn UVa to the ground.
"It was one of the first extraordinary acts of preservation," he said.
Like his great-great granddaddy, Minor says he wants to preserve Charlottesville's history– with style.
"There won't be any sappy busts of the three presidents in the lobby," he said. "We want to call attention to Charlottesville's history with humor and elegance."
Indeed, the Landmark's principle architect Neil Bhatt, of Glen Allen-based NBJ Architecture (it appears that Danielson's old chum, architect Mark Hornberger and his firm Hornberger/Worstell were dropped, but Bhatt says they will "carry over the same theme." Hmm....we wonder what the BAR might think of that, considering how impressed they were with Hornberger's designed when they approved it), says the black marble façade will be preserved and that the remaining façades will blend in with the downtown architecture.
The 100-key hotel will also include a restaurant and bar, a state-of-the-art meeting place, and a rooftop terrace.
"It's an urban project, so there are a lot of complexities," says Bhatt, whose firm specializes in designing hotels. "It's a very tight site."
But Bhatt predicts the building will, indeed, become a landmark for the developer who has already created two landmarks on the Mall: the Regal Cinema and the Charlottesville Ice Park.
"The light boxes on the top floor will glow at night," says Bhatt. In addition, the open-air roof-top terrace on the Mall side will be "great for wedding parties and other events," he says.
As for the interior, Minor and Danielson have brought along designer-to-the-stars Michael Smith, famous for decorating the homes of Cindy Crawford, Kate Capshaw, Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman, and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Introducing mayor Norris, Minor quipped that he had a "natural prejudice against mayors," but assured the crowd that "this one was wonderful."
Norris said the construction of the hotel would be a new "renaissance" for the the Mall. Later, he told the Hook that "anytime you bring something like this downtown, it can only help."
Indeed, "rebirth" appeared to be a talking point.
"It will be a catalyst for the continuing growth of downtown Charlottesville," Minor told the Hook. "It will make retailers more confident if they have the hotel here, bringing people downtown," he said. "We're in the middle of a rebirth of the area."
"It was a chance to do something interesting in Charlottesville," Minor responded when asked why he teamed up with Danielson. "I wouldn't have done this anywhere else in the country."
"You can't imagine how it feels to be starting this," Danielson told the Hook. "I was wondering if it was ever going to happen."
Wearing hard hats and wielding golden shovels, Danielson, Minor, and Norris mugged for the cameras and assumed the digging position. However, Danielson's hardhat appeared to be a little too tight.
"I guess I have a bigger head than I've been told," he joked.