Regions Northern Virginia

Sneak peek at Sheila Johnson’s new resort set to open in August

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By Paula C. Squires


Just a few minutes away from Middleburg’s main drag on West Washington Street, one of the newest luxury resorts in the U.S. is taking shape. Sheila Johnson’s $100 million plus, 168-room Salamander Resort & Spa in on schedule to open Aug. 29, just in time for Labor Day weekend.

It’s situated behind Johnson’s gourmet store, Market Salamander, down a long and winding drive that transports visitors to what looks like an equestrian estate. A grand lawn and circular drive set off the resort’s exterior of stucco, slate and fieldstone. While the outside is finished, workers still are toiling on interior finishes.

“We’re coming down the home stretch. It’s about 85 percent complete,” said Prem Devadas, president of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, Johnson’s hospitality company that owns a portfolio of several properties. Once the resort opens, it will employ about 300 full- and part-time workers, he adds.

During a recent hard-hat tour, Johnson and guests maneuvered around cables, ladders and bins of sand that construction workers use to set the stone in place on many of the property’s terraces.

Set amid 340 acres in Loudoun County’s rolling horse country, the Salamander Resort and Spa was named by Forbes magazine as one of the Top 20 Most Anticipated Hotel Openings in the world in 2013. According to Devadas, the resort already has booked eight weddings and small and large conferences.

One amenity that sets this resort apart: Guests can bring their horses. Designed to complement the traditions of Middleburg — where Johnson has lived since 1996 — the property includes an equestrian center with a 22-stall stable, a practice ring and miles of trails with views of the Bull Run Mountains.

Johnson, a well-known philanthropist and entrepreneur, doesn’t horse around when it comes to perks for people, either. “People who have enjoyed The Homestead and the Greenbrier, they will find that level of luxury and even more,” she says.

The 260,000-square-foot property includes a library, billiards room, wine bar, small retail shop, grand ballroom and conference rooms and a signature dining room with a 42-foot, peaked roof that will offer views of the horsing area outside.

Then there’s a 23,000-square-foot spa with fountains and a 14-foot, tiled glass and stone waterfall feature that drops into a whirlpool tub. It sits below a ceiling outfitted with hundreds of tiny white lights to evoke a starry sky. The price for all this luxury? Rates during the peak season will range from $425 to $575 per night for a 540-square-foot guest room. Prices for larger suites will go from $775 to $3,500 per night.

Along the tour, Johnson and Devadas show renderings, which illustrate what rooms will actually look like when the work is done. Johnson is particularly excited about the kitchen area. It will be a culinary teaching area, she said. “You’ll be able to look into the main kitchen. We want to offer cooking classes. We will have monitors, and they can watch the meal being made for the day.”

Johnson, CEO and founder of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, founded the company in 2005, shortly after her divorce from Robert Johnson. They were the founders of Black Entertainment Television (BET), which was sold to Viacom in 2000 for about $3 billion.

Originally, Johnson had hoped to open the resort in 2010. A series of obstacles, including the recession, the construction of a new wastewater facility for Middleburg that could accommodate the spa’s water needs as well, and the reinstallation of most of the resort’s custom windows, delayed the opening.

“It’s been a long journey,” says Johnson. To read more on how her project evolved, see the June issue of Virginia Business, which feature an expanded story and interview with Johnson.


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