The Dallas real estate community was out in force to greet Sir Richard Branson Monday evening in the sizzling Dallas Design District, and Sir Richard lived up to his reputation of an innovator who would never consider doing anything ordinary.
Branson rode into the parking lot, future site of the state’s first Virgin Hotel at Hi Line Drive and Turtle Creek Boulevard, on a white stallion with Miss Texas astride, wearing a Virgin red cowboy hat and red cowboy boots.
“He told me he wanted to arrive one of three ways,” said Dunhill Partners founder Bill Hutchinson, owner of the 33 acres where the new hotel will be located. “By hot air balloon, on a Texas steer, or a white horse.”
Hutchinson says he called his insurance broker, who advised the horse as having the least amount of risk.
And so in Sir Branson rode on a hot Texas evening, posing for photos with Mayor Rawlings, City Councilwoman Monica Alonzo, Dirk Nowitzki, and the Dallas-based development team of Gatehouse Capital CEO Marty Collins, The Crossland Group founder Luke Crossland, and Virgin’s brand CEO. Everyone grabbed a gold shovel where the dirt met the asphalt parking lot that will be the sprawling lobby of the first Texas Virgin Hotel come fall of 2018. Dirt was flying everywhere!
Branson’s nod to Texas culture — hat, boots, and a beauty queen — along with his signature red and stagger, impressed. He danced to a little C&W — great dancer, obviously an athletic man at age 66. He spoke briefly, too, saying the last time he was in Texas was to write a love letter to the City of Dallas to get his Virgin Airlines a slot at Love Field, what he called “Love City”. That visit also included body surfing at The Rustic in Uptown.
“If you write a love letter, and your entreaty is accepted, the next thing you need is a hotel,” said Branson.
Branson sold Virgin America to Air Alaska last April. Still, we were told that to remain competitive in our city’s increasingly room-rich hotel marketplace, travelers who fly Virgin America into Dallas Love Field (“Love City” is such a better name!) will earn loyalty points at both brands.
This will be the second Virgin Hotel built in the U.S. The first one is in Chicago and doing quite well, said Bill Hutchinson, the night’s emcee, who also said that Branson’s next venture would be into the luxury cruise business even though he has never been on a cruise ship. No word on whether Houston or Austin will get a Virgin, but California, Nashville, Palm Springs and New York are expected to open in the coming months.
According to Raul Leal, chief executive of Virgin Hotels, Dallas has been on the brand’s radar since the early days of the company. Could be because Leal himself lived in the Dallas area a few years back where he “fell in love with a beautiful woman”.
“That didn’t work out,” said Leal, but it put Dallas on his Virgin radar. “I’m sure in the next couple of years there will be a few other hotels in Texas.”
Leal says Dallas has the right mix of consumers Virgin needs — business, fashionable, trend setting, innovative, all of which basically spells the Virgin brand.
“It’s just a place we always wanted to be. It’s one of our top 15 or 20 metro areas,” he said.
You my recall that when the Virgin buzz first erupted in 2013, the hotel’s plan was for a combo residences and hotel similar to the W Residences and the Residences at the Ritz Carlton. That vision was abandoned, though a few agents at the party said, never say never.
The new Virgin hotel will include “multiple dining and drinking outlets,” a pool deck and bar, rooftop lounge, and the brand’s signature The Commons Club, a communal work and hang out space. What restaurants might we expect to see?
Hint: Alberto Lombardi and Tim Headington were there front and center, smiling and posing with the Virgin legend.
We were told the hotel will give local hotels a big red jolt: flexibility with the cancellation policy, free Wi-Fi .
“Our mini-bar is at street-level pricing. You don’t get charged $10 for a bottle of water. You get charged what you would at your local 7-Eleven,” explained Leal. “We keep the consumer in mind.”
Another big red jolt: the interiors of the mini fridge may be Virgin red: Branson said travelers might notice his fondness for that shade.
The mood in the crowd was so upbeat I was hearing talk about how Dallas was a much better version of Los Angeles, who did not snag a Virgin.
Marty Collins, chief executive officer of Gatehouse Capital, said without question, the Design District is on fire. Collins knows better than most: his wife is Josie Cooner of Scott & Cooner, just down Hi Line Drive.
“The Design District is really coming into its own in terms of real estate development. There’s so much retail and residential development going on,” said Marty.
Luke Crossland, another equity partner, was also front and center. As was Dirk Nowitzki and his wife, and Miss Texas Caroline Carothers. Mayor Mike Rawlings and City Council woman Monica Alonzo of District 6 spoke, giddy with excitement. A sprinkling of Mav’s cheerleaders cheered. The Mav’s new $70 million practice facility is nearby, and Virgin definitely hopes they will hang out with Virgins.
I mean, at the Virgin.
Construction on the 14-story, 240-room hotel is expected to begin next year with a slated opening date of fall 2018.