Richmond Gets a Real Hilton ƒ?" in Short Pump 

Owner says plans for a grand hotel in the city haven't meshed yet.

click to enlarge news49_hilton_200.jpg

The sleek, 254-room hotel is sophisticated and modernistic, its spacious lobby attempting to capture the spirit of the Italian Renaissance. The hotel “celebrates the current renaissance of Richmond's River District, City Center Renovation, Capital Square Renovation, the Downtown Historic Broad Street Development, and the Jackson Ward's Renovation,” says a marketing pamphlet introducing the full-service Hilton.

But the hotel isn't in Richmond.

The irony isn't lost on P.C. Amin, who owns the hotel. He'd have rather built Short Pump's Richmond Hilton Conference Center and Spa somewhere downtown. He's been trying to find a suitable location for a new hotel, preferably a Hilton, in the city for about seven years.

“Somewhere there is a disconnect,” Amin says of the repeated attempts, including, most recently, a lost bid to build atop the Richmond Metropolitan Authority parking deck at 10th and Canal streets. There was the Jackson Ward site between First and Third streets; the site east of the Richmond Coliseum, replacing the 6th Street Marketplace food court; the lot along the river, near the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank; and, of course, the Shockoe Bottom ballpark hotel.

None stuck. This for a hotel magnate who always delivers as promised, even in lean times. This year, in the face of the worst economy in 75 years, Amin's company, Shamin Hotels, built and opened 10 hotels, all but one in the Richmond area. Amin's in it for the long haul.

“We will not stop building hotels,” he says. “I love Richmond.”

Richmond, however, hasn't always loved back. More than two years ago his attempts to build a hotel in Jackson Ward were rebuffed by the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which owned the land. The hotel, initially planned as a Hilton Garden Inn, would have added hotel rooms to help lure conventions to the Greater Richmond Convention Center. The lack of nearby hotels has long inhibited the convention's success, officials there say.

There was, after all, another Hilton Garden Inn opening in the city, in the old Miller & Rhoads department store. The developers had promised an upscale hotel for the former department store, to add to the luxury of Broad Street, as part of a deal with the city more than five years ago. Instead the city got a second-tier Hilton.

The Short Pump Hilton is full-service, and could have been built in the city, says Jay Shah, vice president in charge of development for Shamin Hotels. Where? The company isn't into retrofits, but when pressed Shah says it could have gone onto the lanbd where the old Thalhimers once stood, at Seventh and Broad streets.

“Yeah, if the economics were right, of course we would,” Shah says, shortly after his family, along with hotel workers and county officials, raised glasses of champagne to toast the new hotel's flag raising Dec. 4. The grandest hotel in a chain of 36, it offers a 10,332-square-foot ballroom, the largest in the region, a full-service spa and a Shula's Steakhouse, named after the legendary Miami Dolphins coach, Don Shula. (He'll be in town for a grand opening  Jan. 27-28.)

Times are tight, and average occupancy at his hotels is hovering around 60 percent, but Amin says he still has his eye on building something special downtown.

“We will do something in the city,” he says. “It's a matter of time.”

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