The familiar structure that rises among wetlands near I-95 has long stood as a symbol of a well-publicized land use battle between New Castle County government and developers. Now, more than a decade since it was built, the hotel is finally getting to do something it’s never done before: open for business.
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Through the years, a vacant hotel that casts a shadow on northbound I-95 just south of Wilmington has been referred to as an eyesore, a ghost and a white elephant. And thanks to the fact that the hotel was built in a floodplain, some have said the six-story, V-shaped building resembles a castle surrounded by a moat.
This infamous structure has probably garnered more headlines than any local building this side of the Hotel du Pont, and its inescapable link to the name Capano has undoubtedly added an air of intrigue to its aura.
Yes. This is that hotel.
We all know—or think we know—the story by now: The hotel was built larger than approved plans called for and the county, claiming the developers were purposefully flouting land use laws, made an example of the owners by not allowing the finished hotel to open.
The developers, two well-known local builders who had been in the news before, said a mistake was made and that they were being treated unfairly by the county.
The battle became so contentious that someone suggested requiring the developers to fill two floors with foam before the hotel would be allowed to open. A few years later, a letter to the editor in The News Journal suggested the vacant building be used to house those in the Gulf whom were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Simply put, the iconic building became the poster child for a land use battle gone bad—or good, depending on who you side with.
Now, after more than 10 years of court battles, four different owners, and millions of dollars spent on improvements, upgrades and attorneys, the hotel that had yet to host even one guest has gone from being vacant to filling vacancies.
The “new” Sheraton Wilmington South opened in early December. It features three types of guest rooms (192 total), eight conference rooms, a presidential suite, a modern restaurant and a lobby lounge (housed in a breathtaking, six-story atrium), a ballroom, indoor swimming pool and a state-of-the art fitness club.
The next chapter of the hotel’s story has yet to be written. Can it be successful? Some experts say the market isn’t quite there, while others hope to see the lonesome loser come out on top.
Still, others wonder whether the hotel will succeed in spite of its reputation, or perhaps because of it. Its management anticipates the building’s storied past will work some marketing magic.
“The great part about it is we have 10 years of history, albeit, it may not be the history that you would normally want for a hotel,” says Jeremy Costa, general manager. “But it’s a great starting block for us. Because of the intrigue of the building, there’s been 10 years’ worth of marketing on this property without us even owning it.”
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