Investors Including Magic Johnson Buy 'Hinckley Hilton'

By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 1, 2007

A group of Los Angeles investors including former basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson announced yesterday the purchase of the Hilton Washington, a landmark hotel just north of Dupont Circle that has for decades played host to some of official Washington's biggest affairs.

Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund and Lowe Enterprises Investors purchased the hotel from the Hilton Hotels Corp. for $290 million and said they planned to begin an immediate $100 million-plus renovation of the facility -- nationally known as the site where John Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

The hotel, which will retain its name and the Hilton management, is at 1919 Connecticut Avenue NW. It has 1,119 rooms, 110,000 square feet of meeting space and boasts Washington's largest ballroom, at 36,000 square feet.

Since opening on March 25, 1965, during President Lyndon Johnson's administration, the hotel has played host to countless national conferences and formal affairs, including the annual Black Caucus Dinner and the Washington Correspondents Dinner.

It was after addressing a union convention at the hotel on March 30, 1981, that President Reagan emerged from a side door on Florida Avenue NW. Hinckley -- a 25-year-old gunman who later said he was trying to impress the actress Jodie Foster -- opened fire, wounding the president and his press secretary, James Brady. The president recovered, but Brady was permanently disabled. The incident left the hotel with the local nickname "the Hinckley Hilton."

In recent years, as new hotels cropped up in the city, the Hilton Washington began to take on a tired look in comparison. "We want to reposition the hotel to be more competitive . . . in the Washington, D.C., market," said Bobby Turner, Canyon-Johnson's managing partner.

Turner said the renovation will include adding a smaller ballroom of 18,000 square feet. "We have the largest ballroom in the Metropolitan market; as wonderful as that is for larger groups, it's less efficient for smaller groups," he said.

Canyon-Johnson is a joint venture between Canyon Capital Realty Advisors of Los Angeles and Johnson, the former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star. Lowe Enterprises Investors of Los Angeles is a national real estate investment firm with an office in Washington. Both investor groups have large investment projects in the District.

Since leaving the basketball court, Johnson has become a major entrepreneur, investing in restaurants, movie theaters and real estate, with a focus on urban markets he considers "particularly underserved."

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