General manager talks about new hotel in iconic Winston-Salem building

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- For more than 85 years, it’s stood like a fortress in downtown Winston-Salem. Some have called it the city’s architectural signature. When the RJ Reynolds Building opened in April of 1929, it was the tallest building in North Carolina. It was also the tallest between Baltimore and Miami.

In 2014, Reynolds American sold the 22-story building to the PMC Property Group of Philadelphia. PMC has turned it into 116 luxury apartments on floors 7-19. It’s turned floors 1-6 into a Kimpton Cardinal Hotel that features 174 guest rooms, 15 of those suites. The name “Cardinal” is in recognition of North Carolina’s state bird.

John Esainko arrived last fall at the hotel’s general manager. Previously, he ran Kimpton’s Hotel Madera in Washington, DC.

Turning an office building into a hotel was a huge undertaking. “You’re essentially putting in new plumbing, new air conditioning units in a building that was meant to be office space,” he told me.

Considered among the first examples of Art Deco architecture, the Reynolds Building was designed by the New York architectural firm Shreve and Lamb. Shreve and Lamb would later use this skyscraper as an inspiration to design New York City’s Empire State Building.

It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places. This made construction even more complicated.

“Windows need to be preserved, “ Esainko said. “You can’t just go to Lowe’s and pick up a new window. Signage is a big deal. There are only so many things you can put on the outside of the building.”

The Kimpton Flag will fly on top of the building. But don’t expect to see any “Kimpton” signs on the building’s exterior. Esainko does plan to use lights to illuminate the top portions of the building. Those lights will change colors for special occasions (red at Christmas, for example.)

The guest rooms will average $170 a night but could vary depending on the time of the year. They feature mostly North Carolina-made furniture.

The lobby features not only the hotel’s “living room,” but a bar and The Katherine Brasserie, a French-American restaurant that includes 120 seats.

There is 6,400 square feet of meeting space that includes two ballrooms, several meeting rooms and an executive boardroom.

The building’s recreation center (which is open to both the apartment dwellers and hotel guests) is in the former boiler room in the basement. It features an indoor basketball court as well as a 2-lane bowling alley.

Esainko is counting on downtown Winston-Salem’s resurgence and popularity to drive the hotel’s customer base.

“Obviously, we have our national accounts that we’re targeting. And the local [Wake Forest] Innovation Quarter is a big piece for us,” he told me. “Banks, the medical industry, and a lot of socials. “ At least one wedding is already booked.

“When this position came about, I was approached and said let me look into Winston-Salem, “ he said. “Then I did research on the building and the community and it just fit.”

For more information on the hotel, click here.

For more information on the luxury apartments, click here.