Sheila Johnson is the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and the founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts. (Courtesy Photo)

By Deborah Bailey.
Contributing Editor

Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET)  has been exceptionally busy over the past 10 years.

These days, she can be found serving as founder and C.E.O. of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, a luxury brand of resorts started in Middleburg, Va., an hour from the nation’s capital. 

Johnson’s longtime fans and followers know she is a businesswoman who has long contributed to the Washington, D.C. area, as the first Black woman serving as a principal shareholder in three local professional sports teams: the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League, and the professional basketball teams for men and women, the Washington Wizards, and the Washington Mystics, respectively.

When Salamander Hotels hung its shingle on a property in The District’s newly remodeled Southwest waterfront this month, the crowds came out to welcome Johnson “home.”

“Together with Henderson Park, we will create a gathering place for the community in a relaxing and refined setting,” Johnson said to a crowd of hundreds gathered at the new Salamander Washington, D.C. hotel.  

The former Mandarin Hotel was acquired through a partnership formed between Salamander and Henderson Park, a leading global private equity property firm headquartered in the United Kingdom.  

The Mandarin had operated at a low 30 percent occupancy rate. The sale of the property went for an estimated $139 million, according to Hotel   

“Welcome home to Sheila Johnson,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has on hand for the grand opening of the Salamander Hotel, Washington.

“We too are in the hospitality business,” Bowser said about the city. “Hospitality is also about jobs for our Washingtonians. We hope that the Salamander will be a huge and vocal member of our business community.”

“It is important to celebrate this achievement because it is important for people to know that we are 700,000 people –we have great neighborhoods and great destinations,” Bowser continued. 

The mayor concluded by saying visitors to Washington, D.C. generated more than $8.2 billion in revenue for the city and contributed to 80,000 jobs in the hospitality industry. She said she is confident Johnson will add to the life of the city through the acquisition of the Salamander Washington property. 

Recently, Salamander Hotels and Resorts collaborated with Henderson Park to create Salamander D.C. (Courtesy Photo)

Johnson is already contributing toward the 80,000 jobs in D.C.’s hospitality industry by announcing that Salamander has decided to retain all employees of the former Mandarin Oriental hotel who wish to remain with Salamander. 

“We are also delighted to welcome the hotel’s employees into the Salamander family and introduce our unique style of service to this exceptional property,” Johnson added during her remarks. 

Jason Wright, president of the Washington Commanders Football team talked about the person behind the business leader as he spoke about her leadership of the hotel. 

“She is a bold visionary. You don’t go buy the Mandarin unless you have a bold vision,” Wright said. 

“Sheila knows her value. It’s that quiet and steady confidence that I wish I had. I try to absorb it from her every chance I can,” he said. 

“She’s led business ventures that feature Black excellence. It’s a special gift she has to create this atmosphere of family and luxury at the same time,” Wright said of what Johnson will bring to Washington, D.C. 

Johnson said she hopes to serve the community by offering a hospitality apprentice program through the resort as well as activate the hotel’s unique outdoor space overlooking D.C.’s waterfront.

“We intend to introduce the warm and inviting feeling that guests enjoy at other Salamander properties,” Johnson said. 

Salamander Washington, D.C. joins the company’s unique collection of iconic properties in storied destinations, including Jamaica and Anguilla.

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