Bob Johnson Makes Hotel History

BET founder leads all-black $100 million real estate deal

Robert L. Johnson, CEO of RLJ Development L.L.C. (No. 40 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/ SERVICE 100 list with $92.2 million in sales), inked a deal for more than $100 million to build a hotel and condominium project in Norfolk, Virginia.

RLJ Development will be the primary developer of this historic private-public partnership venture with the city of Norfolk. The project also includes Norfolk native and former NFL player William Fuller and his company, Fulco Development of Norfolk.

The hotel and condominium project will be adjacent to the city’s new conference center and parking garage downtown. The 50 to 60 condominiums constructed will sell for $500,000 and up, while the hotel will be a full-service Hilton Hotel with 240 to 300 rooms, says Bruce Watts, senior commercial development manager for the city of Norfolk.

Watts estimates that at least 350 jobs will be created after the project is completed by late 2008. A groundbreaking ceremony for the project is slated for this spring.

Watts says the city’s African American political leadership was key to sealing the deal. Norfolk Vice Mayor Daun S. Hester deserves a lot of credit, he says. “She was the council person that helped orchestrate the private-public partnership.”

Considering the impact that blacks have on the hotel industry, it should come as no surprise that they are being sought out as owners, says Andy Ingraham, president and CEO of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers.

“Let’s not forget that African Americans spend about $40 billion annually on travel.” But too often, he says, “the only thing that we have to show afterward is good or bad memories.”

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