Richard Branson of Virgin Group
Bill Hutchinson of Dunhill Partners
The rumors persist — and apparently airplanes are just not enough. For Dallas, anyway. On April 14, an iPhone shot of Sir Richard Branson and Bill Hutchinson bumping fists in celebration landed anonymously in my inbox. Hutchinson’s real estate investment firm, Dunhill Partners — which includes billionaire Tim Headington and Highland Park Village owner Ray Washburne — purchased the Dallas Design District last November, and rumors have circulated for months that Branson and Dunhill were cooking up a deal. (The first of Branson’s Virgin Hotels to land across the pond opened in Chicago in January.) The photo had a lounge-y, back-room-negotiations feel, with hot-pink LEDs illuminating a backdrop of curtains and the two men seated on a banquette heaped with fur and velvet pillows. No information accompanied the image, and it has since vanished from the Design District’s Facebook page where I saw it later, but we all knew what it meant: A deal had been struck to bring the first Virgin Hotel to Dallas — more to the point, to the booming Dallas Design District.
Hutchinson can’t comment yet about any deals with Virgin or other possible hoteliers. (A formal announcement is expected any day now from Virgin Hotels, according to those with knowledge of the transaction.) But seated in his masculine, leather-and-polished-wood conference room, Hutchinson is enthusiastic about the plans he has for not just one, but two boutique hotels within the Design District. The area’s first hotel will be situated next door to The Goss-Michael Foundation, near the corner of Turtle Creek and Hi Line Drive, with a 2018 opening date. “There is huge demand for more hotels in the area when everyone comes for market,” he says. “Both hotels will include residences on top. There are already 2,500 people living in the district, with more living space and restaurants in demand. We don’t want to lose the integrity of what the center is about — all of the design showrooms that are here will stay in place, no one is getting kicked out or torn down — and we’ll let the development build up organically around them. We want to make the center even more of a cool, hip spot for Dallas.”