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December 1, 2008

Tomorrow's big Bisnow event at the National Press Club: What does 2009 hold for Washington business? Former Homeland Security Sec'y Tom Ridge, Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein, and Fight Night founder Joe Robert; forecaster Steve Fuller; and other luminaries from the legal, association, tech, and real estate worlds (like Vornado's Mitchell Schear). 715-1015 AM. Last chance to sign up!


Thanksgiving season put us in a hunt country frame of mind, so we ventured out the other day for a personal tour with BET co-founder Sheila Johnson of what she hopes will be her next five star resort (she already has one in Charleston). The landmark development will open March 17, 2010, so we saw plenty already going on.


We snapped this of Sheila with Prem Devadas, a noted hotelier she recruited in '05 who specializes in bringing luxury visions to life (Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Hermitage in Nashville, The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island).  The Salamander Resort & Spa will have 168 rooms and suites just a couple blocks from town, but this is a demo room they've created on Middleburg's main street for people to come in to "touch and feel" the luxury; they plan to have it open in time for the "Christmas in Middleburg" annual parade this Saturday. It's just a "standard" room, but is oversized at 540 SF, with fireplace, his and hers closets, and a bathroom that features flat screen TV and shower with body jets.  Thomas Pheasant of Georgetown designed the guest room, with ForrestPerkins the overall interior design firm.

Lerner Enterprises

We spent two hours driving around with Sheila and Prem, here stopping at the road leading into the resort's 340 acres. It was formerly the Harrimans' land and is being recreated from scratch to resemble a great family estate, with a vineyard feel, extensive gardens, and serious equestrian features—like a 22 stall barn and ubiquitous horse paddocks. This winding drive will be soon be graveled and planted with big, leafy London Plane Trees like at Sheila's own home nearby. Horse and carriage will ferry guests from the hotel into town. The buildings themselves will be on just 90 of the acres, and the rest will be preserved as forest in a conservation easement with miles of walking and riding trails. Salamander will be LEED-certified, a first for a luxury resort.


Sheila told us she sees the 24,000 SF spa as a destination amenity (she can imagine the resort as a perfect place for weddings); Prem emphasizes the 11,000 SF conference facilities, including a 5k SF ballroom. Salamander will be associated with Preferred Hotels and Resorts (eg, Pebble Beach Resorts, The Montage in Laguna).


The resort is configured with lavish living room, dining room, billiard room, wine bar, and library. Stone terraces and sloped roofs give the feeling of being on a porch, and the barn style restaurant features 14 foot windows with panoramic views of the Bull Run mountain range, sprawling horse pasture, and herb gardens designed by the resort's culinary director Todd Gray of Equinox to provide produce used in the restaurant. Participants at the cooking studio that seats 28 can take a class, then sit back as a solid wall mechanically rises to reveal the actual hotel kitchen at work.


Sheila owns two other resorts: Innisbrook in Tampa, and Woodlands in Charleston. The latter is one of only three resorts in America that earn five stars for both lodging and dining (the others: The Inn at Little Washington and the Ritz in San Francisco).  Salamander gets its name from a World War II hero who had that code name and later owned the farm Sheila purchased for her residence; but that's also the name of the mythological animal that can walk through fire, which is something Sheila practically did facing initial opposition in Middleburg to her plans. Sheila purchased the estate as an investment and one day as she was walking up the road suddenly envisioned it as a resort. She tells us: "You know how something hits you? You just know it's right." 

Reznick Group
Lerner Enterprises
Cardinal Bank
Beveridge & Diamond
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