Twenty-six months after breaking ground, on time and on budget, the Forum Hotel at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business officially opened its doors on Wednesday.
At the grand opening, those responsible for the project cut a ribbon of dogwood, Virginia’s state flower and tree, in front of the new 22,000-square-foot Kimpton-brand hotel and conference space.
“The Forum Hotel will be a gathering place for Darden students, faculty and staff based here in Charlottesville and at Darden’s campus in Washington,” said Darden Dean Scott Beardsley at the event. “It’s also a gathering place for alumni and recruiters and Darden Executive Education learners from around the world for courses to move their careers and their lives and companies forward. It’s also a gathering place for the University of Virginia and the community.”
Located on the grounds of the Darden School of Business, the 198-key hotel offers 11,500 square feet of conference space and a 5-acre arboretum with about 5,500 newly planted trees that Beardsley said will be a “new park” for the Charlottesville community.
While a bluegrass cover band played in the lobby on Wednesday, roughly 195 guests toured the Forum, from the guest rooms and conference spaces to the 500-person ballroom to the Camellia Promenade overlooking the arboretum to the two restaurants inside: the fine-dining Birch and Bloom and the more casual Good Sport bar.
Beardsley was joined on stage for the ribbon-cutting by UVa President Jim Ryan, Darden alumnus and InterContinental Hotel Group Americas CEO Elie Maalouf, Sands Capital CEO and son of the hotels lead donor Frank Sands, Darden School Foundation Chair Martina Hund-Mejean, Darden CEO and Chief Learning Officer Ashley Williams and general manager of new hotel Kelly Brown.
The Forum replaces the former 180-room Darden Inn, which served as a tavern for Darden guests and Executive Program students. With 10% more space than the inn, Beardsley says the Forum will serve the same purpose as its predecessor at a larger scale.
“For example, the first guests that stayed here are from what we call Executive MBA,” Beardsley said. “They’re principally based out of D.C. metro and Rosslyn, but every few months they come here for a week or for a weekend. They stayed here last week and they were here all week, 150 students, and they were the first Darden guests.”
Beardsley said this year’s Executive Program cohort, which the School of Business has not yet announced, will also have the opportunity to stay at the Forum during the two-week-long, in-person sessions that take place in Charlottesville during the four-week hybrid program.
As an extension of the School of Business, the decoration of the new hotel and conference space draws inspiration from Darden alumni.
The cascading centerpiece of the hotel’s grand lobby, titled “In Ancient Harmony: A Song of Virginia’s Native Flora,” is a custom installation by Darden alumna and Charlottesville artist Brielle DuFlon and serves as another dedication to Virginia’s state tree and flower, the flowering dogwood, Brown said.
Business school alumnus Richard Lowe designed the bathrobes located in each guest room, Brown added.
“One of the things that Darden brings to Charlottesville, and brings to Virginia and the nation, is this ability to have Lifelong Learning executive programs,” said Mayor Lloyd Snook, who was in attendance on Wednesday and whose father was a professor and leader in the Darden Executive Program. “It’s not so much what benefits Charlottesville per se — technically this is in Albemarle County, so we don’t get their tax revenue, we don’t get the sales tax — but what benefits us is the notion that UVa and Darden are places that are attractive, that people want to come to.”
The hotel is Kimpton’s latest addition to the InterContinental Hotel Group’s Luxury and Lifestyle Collection. It is also the brand’s first hotel on any university campus.
University contractors broke ground on the property in March 2020, Maalouf said.
From design to construction to grand opening, the Forum was a five-year project, Brown said.
With 31 "naming opportunities" for donors, the Forum Hotel has already made the university $18.5 million, according to the UVa website.
As of Wednesday afternoon, hotel and restaurant booking is open to the public on he Forum Hotel website
Brown told The Daily Progress that, in addition to being a social space for guests, the Forum will also offer ticketed and free events that will be open to the local community, including a ticketed concert in the gardens on Sept. 7.
More details will be available on the Forum Hotel website closer to the date of the concert, Brown said.
On the same day the university opened one hotel, it demolished another.
“This is really an auspicious day,” Ryan told attendees on Wednesday, “not just because we’re celebrating the opening of the Forum, but — and some of you who are in Charlottesville will know — many of us are celebrating the fact that, while we are opening up this amazing facility, someone is also tearing down the burned-out hotel on the corner of Emmet and Ivy.”
A knowing audience applauded the demolition of the Excel Inn as university and Forum Hotel leaders cut the ribbon on Wednesday. After being erected in 1951, the 20th-century motel offered a bed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during a stop in Charlottesville in 1963.
Owner Vipul Patel applied for a demolition permit on March 23 and received approval from Charlottesville city officials on April 14, according to city records.
The Forum Hotel is now one of three hotels at UVa that are owned by the UVa Foundation. University contractors broke ground on a 215-guestroom hotel land conference center, a $130.5 million project, that will sit on the northern edge of the Emmet-Ivy corridor at the entrance of the university coming from Route 29 southbound. The foundation also owns the 168-key Boar’s Head Resort in Albemarle County.