5-star offensive: Council okays incentives for Dewberry Hotel

John Dewberry told City Council 
Charlottesville will reap benefits far exceeding the incentives from having a five-star hotel on its Downtown Mall.
Photo Eze Amos John Dewberry told City Council Charlottesville will reap benefits far exceeding the incentives from having a five-star hotel on its Downtown Mall. Photo Eze Amos

City Council approved 4-1 a financial assistance package estimated at $1.1 million over 10 years to assist John Dewberry in finishing the derelict hotel that’s loomed over downtown Charlottesville for the past eight years.

The folksy owner of the Landmark Hotel appeared before the council dais March 6. “I’m not used to people seeing my backside in a crowd,” said Dewberry, a former Georgia Tech quarterback, who noted he was born in Waynesboro.

John Dewberry waits for his moment to pitch City Council—about two hours into the meeting. Eze Amos

Dewberry apologized for the delay in movement on the Landmark, which he bought in 2012, and blamed the length of time it took to finish the Dewberry Hotel in Charleston. He promised Charlottesville, too, would have a deluxe hotel, but cautioned, “You can’t do five-star without some help.”

The help he wants from the city for the 110-room, $50 million hotel includes tax breaks on the increased real estate assessments that likely will occur once the project is completed. The city agreed to give Dewberry a 50 percent tax discount on the increased value of the building above its current $6.6 million assessment.

Dewberry also needs parking—75 spaces in the Water Street Garage, which currently has a waiting list for monthly spaces and is involved in litigation between its owners, the city and Mark Brown’s Charlottesville Parking Center.

According to the deal City Council approved, Dewberry will pay at least $40,000 for the first year, paying the city 25 percent of the revenue he generates and keeping 75 percent. Dewberry wants the spaces to be on the garage’s upper deck, and plans to “grow the pie” by cramming even more vehicles into the 75 spaces with valet parking.

Brown, who is suing the city, would only say about the incentives, “It’s certainly an interesting strategy on their part.”

Kristin Szakos was the nay vote against the incentive package. “I’m eager to see the project finished and I’m not against the project,” she says. “I couldn’t quite see the cost-benefit analysis working. It didn’t quite rise to the level of something that the city should invest taxpayer funds in.”

Kristin Szakos, center, cast the only vote against the city subsidizing John Dewberry’s hotel. Eze Amos

Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy also asked why the city should give a tax break to a “multi-millionaire” when it hasn’t to other projects.

A five-star hotel is more labor intensive and capital intensive, answered Dewberry, who pointed out that two-star hotels don’t have doormen or valets waiting to park cars.

Bellamy also asked about how the low-income jobs will benefit the city. Dewberry said that while he may not make a huge profit on his five-star restaurant, the people working there “get tipped well.”

Councilor Bob Fenwick was concerned about the structural integrity of the building, which Dewberry said he’d had checked out by a friend who has a Ph.D. in engineering.

Mayor Mike Signer, who campaigned on getting the Landmark finished, said, “People are furious about this situation.” He told Dewberry he appreciated his “note of contrition,” and said he believes the negotiated assistance will be a good deal for the city in the long term.

About that point, Dewberry returned to the dais and asked if the city was being “rude” to him. “Will you spell my name right?” he asked. On-screen, where the meeting was being broadcast, he was identified as “Dewbury.”

Councilor Kathy Galvin wanted a bond to assure Dewberry completes the project and doesn’t let it sit unfinished another 10 years. He said that would be too expensive, but agreed to sell the property if he doesn’t have a certificate of occupancy by 2021. “It’s critical this project move forward,” she said.

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