LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - 11 years ago, 21C Museum Hotels opened in downtown Louisville, welcoming guest with red penguins. Now a Paris-based hotel company is purchasing 85 percent of its brand for $50 million.
Founders Steve Wilson and his wife, Laura Lee Brown, will retain 15 percent. They will also keep the real estate, and their contemporary art collection which fills the eight locations in various cities, including Lexington, Nashville and most recently Kansas City.
"We weren't looking to sell," Wilson said. "We were looking for ways to expand."
He says with this deal, which should close at the end of the third quarter, he anticipates two 21C Museum Hotels opening each year, instead of their current growth rate of about one. He says this will also mean locations opening in Europe, because that is where Accor Hotels is based.
"The management team is going to remain intact," Wilson said. "We are absolutely committed to keeping the headquarters in Louisville, which I think is very important. All of our friends and neighbors in Louisville should be happy to hear we are staying at home."
Wilson said when he first pitched the idea of a hotel with contemporary art, his friends, bankers and advisers told him that it wasn't going to work. Wilson said they told him "People in Louisville don't care that much about contemporary art."
He said once they made the Conde Nast list, other cities started approaching him to bring the concept to their city.
"This is a great opportunity to take contemporary art and the spirit of 21C to other cities in American and Europe," Wilson said.