Over the past two decades, Vision Hospitality has built and operated more than 40 hotels under a variety of Marriott and Hilton franchises.
But the company's newest and most luxurious hotel ushers in a new era for Chattanooga's biggest hotel chain.
The Edwin is a 90-room downtown hotel that opened in September after two years of planning and construction. Most rooms at the Edwin cost from $250-to-$400 per night.
The boutique inn is uniquely Chattanoogan and overlooks the Walnut Street Bridge. It derives its name from the bridge's architect, Edwin Thatcher, who led the development of the first local bridge across the river in 1891.
Unlike the other hotels developed by Vision Hospitality under major brand names, the Edwin is designed to tell the story of Chattanooga.
"When you build a courtyard or other franchised inn, you have everything in the hotel, right down to the hotel's signage and stationary and you just plug and play what is given to you," says Reggie Piercy, senior vice president of operations at Vision Hospitality. "But when you build a boutique hotel like the Edwin, you start out with an empty box. We had to create and curate it from scratch. That's why it is exciting because it is not a cookie cutter model and what we have here you will not experience anywhere else."
Within the 5-story "box" on Walnut Street near the river, the Edwin showcases locally grown or made food, coffee, whiskey and artwork from 70 local artists within its luxury hotel rooms, restaurant, rooftop bar, spa and coffee shop.
Greg Bradley, the general manager at the Edwin who oversees the hotel's 105-person staff, said it is designed to be inviting to both overnight guests and local patrons who will be enticed into the hotel to dine at a locally-inspired ground floor restaurant known as the Whitebird, grab a cup of coffee or snack at Provisions, or enjoy a cocktail or shared hors d'oeuvre at the rooftop bar known as the Whiskey Thief. The Edwin also includes the Ama spa on the first floor and a conference meeting area known as the Holmberg room for business meetings or special occasions on the fifth floor.
"This is a designed to offer a special, uniquely Chattanooga experience to help people connect, relax and enjoy our city," Bradley says.
Hotel guests may also enjoy a library, community room, indoor workout facility and an outdoor patio with a pool on the rooftop overlooking the city.
The hotel showcases nearly 200 pieces of local art, including a butterfly display in the shape of the Tennessee River in the hotel lobby designed to represent the metamorphosis of Chattanooga's downtown and its waterfront since Vision Hospitality began in 1997.
"There is a lot hidden to discover in what we have designed here, so I think there will be something new each time you come back," Piercy says.
Bradley came to run the Edwin after helping manage the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa and the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, and the Greenbrier and Kiawah Island Golf Resort in Georgia and South Carolina. Although the Edwin boasts many of the luxuries of the other hotels he has managed, it is unique in its Chattanooga focus "and we think will offer a truly unique, authentic experience in one of the best luxury hotels in the South," Bradley says.
The $27 million investment by Vision Hospitality in the Edwin is the most expensive per-room hotel ever for the Chattanooga hotel chain, but much of the appeal will reach beyond those staying at the Edwin.
The Whitebird, which is the Cherokee name for one of Chattanooga's founders, John Ross, is a ground-floor restaurant along Walnut Street that should attract many local patrons enticed by a unique menu developed by Kevin Korman, the hotel's executive chef.
Korman said he has developed an "elevated southern" or "progressive Appalachian" menu for the Whitebird. The 114-seat Whitebird will be open from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. for breakfast, from 11 a.m. to 4 .m. for lunch and from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner. It is intended to draw heavily from local patrons and complement The Whiskey Thief five stories higher. The Whiskey Thief will be open most days from 4 p.m. to midnight and even later on weekend nights.
"We hope people will come in, enjoy a great meal at the Whitebird and either have a pre-dinner or after-dinner drink and dessert at The Whiskey Thief enjoying the views of our city," Korman said.
Each patron of the Whitebird will start out with a gift amuse bouche, a bite-size mix of corn, in-season fruit and a cracker to blend the different Cherokee and Appalachian food traditions of the region.
All dishes and desserts are made from scratch and were developed to subtly include a local flavor or locally sourced ingredients.
"Every dish tells a story, which is a lot of fun," Korman said.
Korman, who previously operated restaurants in Walton Beach and Alys Beach, Florida, said he was first recruited to consider the chef job at the Edwin and quickly decided he, his wife and two daughters wanted to move to Chattanooga, even if the Edwin job didn't work out.
"Chattanooga is that perfect blend of nature and charm," Korman said.
After Korman cooked a few of his own dishes, Bradley said he immediately knew Korman would be an ideal chef.
The Whiskey Thief will offer a variety of shareable plates, snacks and hors d'oeuvre along with a rich menu of wines, whiskeys, cocktails and craft beers. In October, The Whiskey Thief will receive from Woodford Reserve Distillery a special hand-selected whiskey brand for the hotel.
"I think this will really change the landscape of the bar scene in Chattanooga," Bradley says.
The Edwin is the first of a new boutique line of hotels for Vision Hospitality and will be marketed as part of the Autograph Collection Hotels brand. Other boutique hotels are under development for Vision Hospitality in Cincinnati, Louisville and another project on the Southside of Chattanooga, Piercy said.
Vision Hospitality, which operates 34 hotels across the Southeast and Midwest, is also opening a Hampton Inn hotel in East Ridge and a Hilton Garden Inn in Memphis in late 2018.