New Greenbrier owner bets on casino to help recapture glory
By Jeri Clausing
The new owner of West Virginia’s historical Greenbrier Resort has unveiled plans
to add a 65,000-square-foot casino to the
And that’s just the beginning of ambitious plans for not only restoring the troubled resort to its former five-star glory but
make it the “best of them all.”
Jim Justice, a girls’ high school basketball
coach whose family also runs some 50 businesses ranging from John Deere dealerships
to coal, swooped in and bought the bankrupt property out from under the nose of
Justice said he paid $20 million for the
resort, a price he described as “the deal of
And while luxury travel and business
meetings are down, he said he has the resources to use the time to improve the resort
while beefing up its sales and marketing.
“You’ve got to have the resources to
weather the storm. And I’ve got that,” he
“Do I have the resources to weather four
straight hurricanes? No. But I can weather
First on the agenda is the addition of
what Justice describes as a Monte Carlo-style casino, where dealers will wear tuxedos and cocktail waitresses will wear ball
Other plans include adding what he calls
a “Barry Manilow-style” theater, a teen cen-
Drilling is getting under way for the Greenbrier’s underground casino, scheduled to open in April 2010.
ter, shopping and restaurants.
Restoring the resort to its former five-star
glory, Justice said, is the ultimate goal.
“That’s not something that’s on a wish
list. That’s a going-to-do thing,” he said.
Justice bought the resort in June after
Marriott had reached a tentative agreement
with its previous owner, CSX Corp., to buy
the property out of bankruptcy.
Marriott admitted it was surprised by
the move. But Justice said letting the property fall into the hands of a chain would
have been “like sandblasting Mount Rushmore.”
Since the purchase, Justice said he and
Marriott have been talking about a possible
marketing agreement, but he insisted that
the name of the resort would not change.
The casino is expected to open in April.
It will be built underground near the front
Until then, he said, the resort will add a
temporary casino with slot machines and
table games in the resort’s Virginia Wing.
That will open Sept. 15, he said.
Voters in the area last year approved a
plan to allow gaming at the resort.
Justice said that when complete, the re-
sort will set “a new standard for luxury
The Greenbrier, a National Historic
Landmark that has hosted presidents and
kings since 1778, has had its share of struggles in recent years.
The 721-room resort was one of the few
properties in the country to have received
both a five-diamond rating from AAA (it
has had that rating for 31 years) and a five-star rating from Mobil Travel Guide. But it
lost a star in 1999.
In 2008, after CSX invested $50 million
in renovations in an attempt to regain that
ranking, the resort saw a host of regular
meetings canceled due to a protracted labor dispute.
After losing $35 million in 2008, the resort in January laid off 650 employees, and
in March it filed for bankruptcy.
Justice said he has rehired every single
employee and has beefed up their benefits
And while he admitted it would take a
while to build back meetings business, he
said transient business has been good.
“I can tell you on two of the weekends in
June we were completely sold out,” he said.
“Business here is terrific compared to
what we projected the business to be. Is
the business here off-the-charts good yet?
Of course not. But it far exceeds what our
“Over the last few years we lost a lot of
groups,” Justice said. “We’re going to have
to get those back along with new ones.”
BUY ; LEARN ; NETWORK
Register Today For NBTA ‘09
THE BUSINESS TRAVEL EVENT OF THE YEARSM
The NBTA Convention Gives You More
; More Buying Power – NBTA Convention Buyer Attendees Represent
up to $233 Billion in Travel Spend
; More Contacts – Over 375 Exhibitors at the Industry’s Largest Exposition
; More Information – Over 65 Education Sessions
President Bill Clinton
Sir Richard Branson
Olympic Champion Dara Torres
Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger, III
No Price Increase for 2009