Sheila Johnson, founder and CEO of Salamander Resorts, recently fulfilled a longtime dream of expanding her resort portfolio to Southwest D.C. with the purchase of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Johnson’s current flagship resort sits in Middleburg, Virginia, about 50 miles from D.C. Her purchase of the Mandarin is part of a transformation the billionaire businesswoman hopes to make at Salamander.
"It’s such a great solid foundation that’s already here, and we’re going to make it into the Salamander,” Johnson said. “This is like the athletic and entertainment corridor of Washington, D.C.”
To purchase the Mandarin, Johnson partnered her Middleburg-based resort with private equity firm Henderson Park, of London, for a $140 million deal. The 373-room hotel on Maryland Avenue is the latest high-profile hotel deal in D.C., following the old Trump International Hotel rebrand to a Waldorf Astoria.
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This purchase means a lot to Johnson, who is also the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and current vice chair of the ownership group for the Washington Mystics, Wizards and Capitals. Having lived near the Wharf for several years, she has been looking to expand Salamander to D.C., a city with personal significance.
With this purchase, Johnson and her team at Salamander are aiming to capitalize on what they call a “town and country synergy” between the two locations. Their goal is to combine the charming activities of horseback riding and wine tastings offered at Middleburg with urban elements at the Maryland Avenue property, such as potential programming with the National Mall and Audi Field.
Salamander President Prem Devadas said the work on Salamander DC is scheduled to take place over the next few months. The hotel will perform business as usual as enhancements are made to the courtyard, spa, fitness center, pool, lounge and restaurant.
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“Everything from staffing for the new Salamander to changing the signage and all of the amenities in the guest rooms, but there is so much more to come, and the team is really excited about the transformation that is taking place,” Devadas said.
These developments have an even greater meaning for Johnson as she makes way for more Black, woman-owned businesses in the District.
“From the moment we opened the doors in Middleburg, when there were so many naysayers and there was so much I went through, this is just the beginning. We are going to grow this company and we always strive for excellence, because that’s what the salamander means,” Johnson said.