Cavalier Resort takes shape in Virginia Beach
In 1975, Bruce Thompson was the night watchman and grass cutter at Virginia Beach’s Cavalier Hotel. Today, he’s transforming the hotel and its 21 surrounding acres into a major mid-Atlantic resort.
Built in 1927, the Cavalier at various times hosted luminaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Muhammad Ali and every president from Harry S. Truman through Richard Nixon (who some claim burned the missing Watergate audiotape in the hotel’s basement). But the hotel fell into disrepair and was scheduled for the wrecking ball when a group led by Thompson became involved in 2013. After $85 million in renovations, the hotel reopened in 2018.
“The notion that it was going to be demolished struck us as just something that couldn’t happen,” says Thompson, CEO of Virginia Beach-based hospitality group Gold Key | PHR, which has carried out more than $1 billion in development over the past 15 years. “It’s an icon for the community and for the commonwealth.”
Now Thompson is putting the final touches on transforming the Cavalier and a bevy of other Gold Key holdings into a $433 million Oceanfront destination now called the Cavalier Resort. Last June, the $125 million, 305-room Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront opened on the property. In 2018, Thompson persuaded the city of Virginia Beach to allow him to close a section of Atlantic Avenue in order to recreate the iconic “grand lawn” that once ran from the Cavalier down the hill to the beach.
This May, Gold Key is completing that project, as well as 42 Ocean, a condo development with an average price tag of $1.2 million per unit. Currently, construction is underway on the planned 12-story Embassy Suites, the final section of Thompson’s resort vision. It’s scheduled to open during the first quarter of 2023.
When completed, Thompson says, the Cavalier resort will be similar to South Carolina’s Sea Pines Resort. It will include three hotels, with a combined 600 rooms, seven restaurants, six pools, a spa, a distillery and 70,000 square feet of meeting space. The resort also has 85 single-family residences and 35 condos.
Acknowledging that the pandemic has hit the hospitality industry hard, Thompson says his Oceanfront properties have fared somewhat better than others.
“It’s been really tough,” says Thompson, who’s also involved in a proposal to redevelop Norfolk’s Military Circle Mall. “We’re fortunate because we do have that leisure business.”