Presenting ‘World-Class Education and Hospitality,’ Darden Celebrates Hotel Opening

April 27, 2023 By Dave Hendrick, dah7m@virginia.edu Dave Hendrick, dah7m@virginia.edu

The University of Virginia community celebrated an “elegant and practical” addition to North Grounds on Wednesday with the grand opening and ribbon-cutting of The Forum Hotel.

The event drew roughly 200 guests, including University leaders, alumni and community members, as well as executives from Intercontinental Hotels Group, whose Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants unit operates the Darden School Foundation-owned property. The fête featured live music and DJs, gourmet snacks, hand-crafted refreshments – and a clearly stated vision for how the property will further the school’s capabilities and education experience.

“As you will learn today, The Forum Hotel is critical to Darden’s academic mission and learning experience, and it’s Kimpton’s first ever on-campus hotel,” Darden Dean Scott Beardsley said. “To put it simply: The property combines world-class education and world-class hospitality.”

UVA President Jim Ryan, who spoke at the opening, lauded the project as “both elegant and practical” and called The Forum a new asset for Darden, UVA and the community.

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Group photo of Ashley Williams, CEO and chief learning officer, Darden School; Martina Hund-Mejean, chair, Darden School Foundation; Frank M. Sands, chief investment officer and chief executive officer, Sands Capital; Scott C. Beardsley, dean, Darden School; UVA President Jim Ryan; Elie Maalouf, CEO, IHG Americas; Kelly Brown, general manager, The Forum
Speakers gather for the ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of The Forum Hotel. Left to right, Ashley Williams, CEO and chief learning officer, Darden School; Martina Hund-Mejean, chair, Darden School Foundation; Frank M. Sands, chief investment officer and chief executive officer, Sands Capital; Scott C. Beardsley, dean, Darden School; UVA President Jim Ryan; Elie Maalouf, CEO, IHG Americas; Kelly Brown, general manager, The Forum. (Photo by Andrew Shurtleff)

The hotel, which replaced the UVA Inn at Darden, features 198 guest rooms and two restaurants: Birch & Bloom, a modern steakhouse, and The Good Sport, a craft beer bar. The structure includes more than 22,000 square feet of gathering and classroom space, including a ballroom, tiered and flat classrooms and small meeting spaces to provide for instruction and gatherings. A six-acre arboretum and botanical garden adds connectivity to North Grounds and Charlottesville.

Alumnus Elie Maalouf, CEO of the Americas for Intercontinental Hotels Group, called the opening a “special and personal milestone” given his personal history and ongoing engagement with the Darden School.

The Forum Hotel’s lobby.

The Forum Hotel’s lobby. (Photo by Cris Molina for Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants)

“We’re honored that you’ve entrusted us to bring this stunning property to life,” he said. “I strongly believe that The Forum will become a warm and welcoming place for the entire UVA, Darden and Charlottesville communities.”

The hotel formally opened April 12, with Darden executive MBA students in Charlottesville for a leadership residency serving as the first guests.

The hotel project was fueled by alumnus Frank Sands Sr. and his wife, Marjorie Sands, who in 2019 made a $20 million gift to jumpstart the hotel’s construction. More than 100 donors eventually followed his lead, making the project possible.

The benefactor’s son and fellow alumnus, Frank Sands, who serves as vice chair of the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees, spoke about the importance of education and the Darden School to his parents, who he said would have been “thrilled” to see the eventual outcome of their efforts. Frank Sands Sr. died in March 2021, as The Forum was under construction.

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The Sands family believes the Darden School is a force for good in the world, the younger Sands said, adding that “our hope for The Forum Hotel is that it is a place where relationships and great ideas are created and can flourish.”

Although known as The Forum Hotel, the property will officially be designated the Frank M. Sands Sr. and Marjorie R. Sands Hotel at Darden and Conference Center for Lifelong Learning.

Ashley Williams, CEO and chief learning officer of Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning and the Sands Institute for Lifelong Learning, detailed The Forum’s role at Darden and said learners were in the forefront of construction plans.

Area civic leaders attending the event included state Del. Sally Hudson, state Sen. Creigh Deeds, and Albemarle County supervisors Diantha McKeel (Jack Jouett District) and chair Donna Price (Scottsville District). Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook also attended.

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