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Two new hotels opening in former office tower on Main Street

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Neil Amin is making his mark on the downtown Richmond hotel scene this week.

His Shamin Hotels, the region’s largest hotel operator, is opening two hotels in a 19-story former office tower at 700 E. Main St. that will soon include a rooftop bar/restaurant and fitness center.

The 100-room Homewood Suites opens Monday — and rooms are mostly booked there this week. The 144-room Hampton Inn & Suites will become available for guests in phases beginning in late January with plans for that hotel to be fully operational by mid-February.

“I’m very excited,” Amin, the company’s president and CEO, said about the two hotels opening. “This is very rewarding. We have wanted to do this in downtown for a long time.”

Converting the 52-year-old former office building into the two hotels under the Hilton brand is by far his company’s most ambitious project — and its most expensive. The $40 million-plus project includes the acquisition, construction and renovation costs before receiving any historic tax credits.

“It certainly is the one I have spent the most time on and the most enjoyable,” Amin said. “We didn’t spare any expense. This will be here for 30 to 40 years. This will be a key location for the city. We wanted to make it as nice and distinctive as possible.”

Chester-based Shamin Hotels now operates 43 hotels — 33 in the Richmond area and 10 hotels in other parts of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland. Its local properties include the 254-room Hilton Richmond Hotel & Spa Short Pump in Henrico County and the DoubleTree by Hilton Richmond-Midlothian in Chesterfield County.

Its only other hotel downtown — the Holiday Inn Express at 201 E. Cary St. — used to be an office building.

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The Homewood Suites/Hampton Inn & Suites project has taken longer to open than Amin had expected.

Shamin bought the building in October 2013 for $7 million and had expected to have the two hotels ready for guests last summer in advance of the UCI Road World Championships that took place here in late September.

“I wanted to make sure we did it right,” Amin said. “This is a project that is going to be around for decades. I didn’t want to rush it.”

The heating and air conditioning systems and other mechanical equipment for the entire building had to be replaced and moved. An additional floor was added to accommodate the equipment. Elevator shafts had to be extended to reach the new top floor space and to the basement.

“We had to redesign the space to ensure we could make it work. The process took longer,” he said.

Those changes allowed for the 140-seat Kabana bar/restaurant and a 1,600-square-foot fitness center to be added to the roof top.

Work continued last week on that space. The Kabana bar/restaurant should open in early spring, he said.

The delay will be worth it, Amin said, because the views are breathtaking.

Bar patrons will be able to have dinner and drinks at tables inside — or sit outside along a glass enclosed wall — looking east toward the Virginia Capitol or south toward the James River. Those using the fitness center will look west.

The hotel’s other restaurant, Belle & James, opened in late October in the first level of the building along Main Street. A coffee and juice shop, called Sip, will open this spring also on the first floor entrance.

The building has a 220-space parking garage.

The cost of the building’s renovations is still being worked out, Amin said.

The building was named to the National Register of Historic Places, which makes it eligible for federal and state historic tax credits to offset the cost of renovations.

“We’re still working with the city on abatement, but we gutted the entire building down to the concrete and installed all new systems and finished,” Amin said.

The company also hopes the building will receive a Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) status, one of the highest certifications for energy efficiency. To be more energy efficient, for instance, 27 separate hot water boilers were installed to service the entire building rather than having one or two large boilers.

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The addition of the two new hotels comes as the hospitality industry in downtown Richmond is undergoing a renaissance of sorts with new hotels recently opening, another to open and existing hotels being renovated.

The six-story Italian Renaissance-style building at 201 W. Broad St. was converted into the boutique Quirk hotel this fall with 75 rooms. It will feature five penthouse rooms and a rooftop bar, which also is slated to open this spring.

A 135-room Courtyard by Marriott and an adjoining 75-suite Residence Inn by Marriott for extended stays opened a year ago in December at East Cary and 14th streets in Shockoe Slip. The hotels are owned by Richmond-based Apple Hospitality REIT, which also owns the Richmond Marriott downtown.

The Hilton Garden Inn, in the former Miller & Rhoads department store building on East Broad Street, was converted into a full-service Hilton hotel in November.

The former Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Richmond Downtown at 301 W. Franklin St. is slated to reopen this year as the Graduate Richmond, a 200-room full-service hotel.

The Jefferson Hotel also has been undergoing a major upgrade of its guest rooms, with completion expected this year.

Adding the Homewood Suites and Hampton Inn properties in downtown is good for the hospitality industry, said Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism.

“It adds more inventory and brand options for our visitors,” Berry said. “The Richmond region travel industry is at an all-time high. There have been great additions to the downtown hotel inventory.”

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The two new hotels have separate entrances — the Homewood Suites lobby is off Seventh Street while guests for Hampton Inn enter off Main Street near the Belle & James restaurant.

Homewood Suites use floors eight through 12. Hampton Inn rooms are on the 14th through 19th floor. (Shamin, like many hotel operators, has skipped the number 13 when numbering floors in the building because of a superstition regarding the number 13.)

Guest rooms throughout the building, Amin said, are about 50 percent bigger than typical hotel rooms and have several big windows because of the layout as a former office building.

For instance, the Homewood Suites have on average 550-square-foot rooms, with full kitchens including dishwashers and some with separate living areas. The suites for the Hampton Inn average about 525 feet.

Homewood Suites has 55 rooms which are studios and 45 rooms that have separate living area and bedroom. Hampton Inn has 96 regular rooms and 48 suites.

“It really is fantastic the way the project came out,” Amin said.

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