VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – After nearly a decade of work, cost overruns, some controversy and a global pandemic, the Cavalier Hotel and Resort complex at the north end of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront is nearly complete.
Thursday, the third and final hotel of the project welcomed guests for the first time. The 157-room, 12-story Embassy Suites sits on the beach across Atlantic Avenue from the historic Cavalier Hotel.
Along with the Cavalier, Cavalier Beach Club, Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront, Cavalier Residences and Ocean luxury condominiums, the resort now accounts for 547 rooms, 81 private homes, 35 condos, nine restaurants, a spa and a distillery, according to Gold Key | PHR, the Virginia Beach-based hospitality company behind the development.
Virginia Beach City Council committed to more than $18 million of the overall $458 million investment. In a release, Gold Key projects the complex will generate nearly $9.5 million in 2023.
CEO Bruce Thompson said the public-private partnership wasn’t without risk, and that he is proud of how it turned out.
“This is a story of, be careful what you wish for,” Thompson said in a release. “My partners cared deeply about preserving this hotel, not realizing the magnitude of that undertaking initially. In spite of the cost overruns, the partners committed to invest tens of millions to bring it back to its original grandeur in a way that would not only make the community proud, but continue to elevate the Virginia Beach Oceanfront as a tourist destination.”
The Cavalier Hotel, also dubbed “The Hotel on the Hill,” opened back in 1927 and is listed on Virginia Landmark Register, National Register of Historic Places.
It was once was a major player in Virginia Beach’s original resort scene, according to the city. Nine U.S. presidents stayed at or visited the Cavalier. So did celebrities like Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
However, in 2012, a judge ordered the hotel complex to be sold after the then-owners became involved in a dispute.
Thompson said there was fear the Jeffersonian structure could be demolished. There were concerns about the property’s structural condition and that renovation costs would be high.
A special advisory committee was appointed by Virginia Beach City Council to prepare an incentive package, hoping to entice a developer into preserving the historic hotel.
In 2013, a group of investors led by Thompson bought the hotel for $35.1 million.
Initially, the price to renovate the historic hotel was estimated to be $50 million. When it reopened in 2018, $85 million had been spent.
“There is risk associated with development, which in this case required Cavalier Associates to provide tens of millions of dollars in unanticipated equity, and guarantee hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bank loans in order to meet our obligations to the city and the community,” Thompson said. “There were numerous conversations among the partners about not starting the development or abandoning it once we started, realizing the financial commitments were far superior to what we anticipated and planned.”
The project has also not been without controversy.
Thompson, known for his bullish style and political connections, faced pushback over his vision to close Atlantic Avenue at its longtime terminal in front of the Cavalier in order to build valet for his the Marriott and Embassy Suites. He also didn’t ask permission to build into a city easement on Cavalier lawn and was ordered to remove palm trees by the Army Corps after planting them too close to the sea wall.
Thompson also had to push back his opening of the Marriott due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But during his City Council presentation, Thompson will formally ask that the city of Virginia Beach acknowledge that Gold Key has met and exceeded all financial and performance requirements and exceeded quality expectations.
“We’re very proud of our work, and extremely proud to make this presentation to Virginia Beach City Council,” Thompson said.
Thompson will make his presentation at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall during the formal City Council,
Vice Mayor Rosemary Wilson said the presentation was a requirement of the partnership and “a staff member” promised the presentation would be in formal session.
Typically, similar presentations are done in informal afternoon sessions.