BY MOLLY WOLCHANSKY
When Sir Richard Branson is in charge of providing the entertainment for his guests, he doesn’t disappoint. A groundbreaking ceremony on Monday for his new Virgin Hotel in the Dallas Design District included live music, food trucks—and his arrival on the back of a white stallion. Sitting next to him on the back of the horse was Miss Texas, and they both smiled to the crowd of people who waved cardboard cutouts of Branson’s face in the air.
The ceremony kicked off with a speech from Bill Hutchinson, founder and president of Dunhill Partners Inc., which owns much of the Design District. “This hotel has been in the planning for over a year,” he said. “In about two years, this is going to be a hotel. Right now you all are standing in the lobby of the Virgin Hotel and The Common Club.”
The luxury hotel will feature more than 200 rooms and suites. There will be a gym, spa, conference spaces, and a rooftop pool and bar. It was designed by Dallas-based 5G Studio Collaborative, named the 2016 Architecture Firm of the Year at the Build Architecture Awards. The hotel will be developed by Gatehouse Capital, also based in Dallas. Led by CEO Marty Collins, the company is known for its work with W Hotels and other luxury brands.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings called the Design District “the next hot area for Dallas.” Its value, he said, “has grown hundreds of millions of dollars just in the last couple of years. We have over 1,500 new residential units being built, today with 700 under construction, and another 140 planned. The vision here is to make it about business, about residential, about fun, and about cool. There’s not anybody that typifies that better than Virgin hotels.”
The man driving the growth of the Virgin Hotels brand is Raul Leal, CEO, who has been at the helm since 2012. There are four new Virgin hotels going up across the country, with other properties in New York, Tennessee, and California. “Virgin Hotels aspires to be your place in the city—the community’s hotel,” he said. “The place that all of you will want to come, and everyone leaves feeling better.”
Branson also spoke about his Virgin Airlines, which has been operating locally out of Dallas Love Field Airport since late 2014. This time, I’ve come back to build a hotel, and I suspect the next time I come will be to open the hotel,” he said. The eccentric entrepreneur also is looking into establishing a luxury cruise line under the Virgin brand.