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Will Virgin Chicago Ever Lose Its Hotel Virginity?

Where: 203 N. Wabash [map], Chicago, IL, United States, 60601
February 12, 2013 at 12:48 PM | by | ()

Among Chicago’s — and possibly the world's — most eagerly anticipated hotel openings is Richard Branson’s first ever Virgin Hotel, originally slated for Chicago. But rumors are swirling that it’s not going to happen. We cringe and die a little inside whenever we hear it, but more than anything, we're just anxious to get to the bottom of things.

In 2011, Branson first announced plans to open the hotel in a 27-story Art Deco gem, the Old Dearborn Bank building located in Chicago’s Loop. Construction was set to begin in May 2012 with a tentative opening date of fall 2013.

Well, that got pushed to a more ambiguous late 2013/early 2014 opening. And then, just yesterday, Virgin CEO Raul Leal confirmed an early 2014 opening with Hotel News Now. So what exactly is the deal with this place?

Crickets, not construction, is all we hear outside the Chicago site of the would-be Virgin Hotel — at least for now.

It’s not necessarily the delayed opening date that has our attention (this is the hotel biz, after all). Back in December, a first wave of rumors was heard at a travel industry trade show followed by a second, more recent wave from a handful of respected Chicago hotel insiders that Virgin Chicago may be permanently stalled.

We’ve since taken several slightly neurotic strolls past the hotel, each time noticing that, despite scaffolding, there appears to be little to no activity. Could be too early, could be a sign, could just be neurotic. Then again, Branson was also scouring New York for a possible hotel site, which left us and others wondering if the first hotel might pop up there instead of Chicago.

Still, despite conjecture and lack of physical developments, we’ve found solid reasons to believe a Virgin in Chicago is still a sure thing. We recently followed up with our own Virgin insider who dashed the rumors, saying that Virgin Chicago is still very much on.

And in the aforementioned interview, Leal admitted Virgin is behind schedule (blaming their perfectionist ways and a “crippling recession”) while also sharing the brand is beginning to hit its stride and that Chicago will indeed be the first of the Virgins to open.

He went on to say that Virgin was “close” and “pretty much on track” to reach its goal of 20 hotels in 10 years, rattling off possible sites in California, Spain, Paris and London. Lingering ambiguity about what the hotels would actually be like evoked less confidence, but there’s no denying Virgin’s stance that Chicago and other hotels are happening.

Just last month, Branson himself attempted to quash rumors with his own post on the Chicago hotel:

“Walking around [the Chicago site] on a crisp, blustery Windy City day left us with tremendous inspiration to see it transformed into a beautiful new hotel. I could already envisage how it could soon be turned into one the friendliest, most stylish hotels around. We are starting work on it in the next month and it should be open within 15 months.”

Music to our Virgin-loving ears, that sent us off skipping into the sunset with high fives all around, hoping the good word from Sir Branson comes to fruition as promised. Lord knows we’ll be eagerly waiting and watching, toes and fingers crossed.

Heard any rumors on Virgin Hotel? Shoot us an email, or write it in the comments below!

[Photos: Nina Kokotas Hahn for HotelChatter, jenny8lee]

Archived Comments:

Virgin Hotels not so new...

Virgin Hotels has actually existed since the late 80s, when he bought three properties in the UK: Norton House Hotel in Edinburgh, Crathorn Hall hotel in North Yorkshire, and Rhinefield House Hotel in Hampshire. These were run under the holding name of Voyager Hotels.