A decade after Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson announced plans to open a quaint little inn in Middleburg, Salamander Resort and Spa opens to the public Thursday. About 70 rooms will be open as the resort slowly works up to operating at its full capacity of 168 rooms.
The resort has been billed as the height of luxury, but it didn’t come easy. Salamander faced an uphill battle with its small town neighbors, and the project had to be put on hold in 2009 due to the economic downturn.
Johnson’s excitement upon opening the “crown jewel” of her growing hospitality company — she also owns three resorts in Florida — is palpable; she’ll be the first guest to check in. Naturally, she’s staying in the owner’s suite, which is the equivalent of the hotel’s presidential suite.
“I want to make sure it all works before the real VIP guests start staying up there,” she said. She chatted with me before the grand opening about the resort.
How are you feeling now that the resort is finally open? Every time I pull up in the front of the resort, I have this sense of pride. At the same time … it’s a little stressful right now, because now you have this beautiful crown jewel and we’ve got to make it work through the business — through group business and lots of leisure business.
What made you decide that the market was back? We got the nod from our bankers, saying, ‘It’s time to move forward.’ You can’t let a building sit too long … we had already let it sit long enough to ride out this recession. And I really believe, in watching the climate, people are ready to get out of their cocoon and live again.
Did you ever think that you would just have to move on? No, I never felt that. I was frustrated that I had to mothball the project. That was scary, and I didn’t sleep at night very well, but never once did I think about abandoning the project. I knew that I could make it work.
Has the Middleburg community accepted the project now, a decade later? They are so excited. It’s going to boost the economy of the town. I think what it was is they just couldn’t see the vision of what I was able to see. The other thing is that the recession played the right way for me, in the sense that the businesses were having a tough time in the town. I think with this resort opening, and coming to the end of this recession, it’s really going to help them out.
What’s next? Do you have any plans for other properties? We’re constantly upgrading at the other resorts, but hopefully I’ll be able to announce a new expansion at one of the other resorts within the next year.