The new owner of West Virginia's historical Greenbrier Resort has unveiled plans to add a 65,000-square-foot casino to the property.

And that's just the beginning of ambitious plans for not only restoring the troubled resort to its former five-star glory but make it the "best of them all."

Jim Justice, a girls' high school basketball coach whose family also runs some 50 businesses ranging from John Deere dealerships to coal, swooped in and bought the bankrupt property out from under the nose of Marriott International.

Justice said he paid $20 million for the resort, a price he described as "the deal of the century."

And while luxury travel and business meetings are down, he said he has the resources to use the time to improve the resort while beefing up its sales and marketing.

"You've got to have the resources to weather the storm. And I've got that," he said. "Do I have the resources to weather four straight hurricanes? No. But I can weather this storm."

First on the agenda is the addition of what Justice describes as a Monte Carlo-style casino, where dealers will wear tuxedos and cocktail waitresses will wear ball gowns.

Other plans include adding what he calls a "Barry Manilow-style" theater, a teen center, shopping and restaurants.

Restoring the resort to its former five-star glory, Justice said, is the ultimate goal.

"That's not something that's on a wish list. That's a going-to-do thing," he said.

Justice bought the resort in June after Marriott had reached a tentative agreement with its previous owner, CSX Corp., to buy the property out of bankruptcy.

Marriott admitted it was surprised by the move. But Justice said letting the property fall into the hands of a chain would have been "like sandblasting Mount Rushmore."

Since the purchase, Justice said he and Marriott have been talking about a possible marketing agreement, but he insisted that the name of the resort would not change.

The casino is expected to open in April. It will be built underground near the front entrance.

Until then, he said, the resort will add a temporary casino with slot machines and table games in the resort's Virginia Wing. That will open Sept. 15, he said.

Voters in the area last year approved a plan to allow gaming at the resort.

Justice said that when complete, the resort will set "a new standard for luxury gaming destinations."

The Greenbrier, a National Historic Landmark that has hosted presidents and kings since 1778, has had its share of struggles in recent years.

The 721-room resort was one of the few properties in the country to have received both a five-diamond rating from AAA (it has had that rating for 31 years) and a five-star rating from Mobil Travel Guide. But it lost a star in 1999.

In 2008, after CSX invested $50 million in renovations in an attempt to regain that ranking, the resort saw a host of regular meetings canceled due to a protracted labor dispute.

After losing $35 million in 2008, the resort in January laid off 650 employees, and in March it filed for bankruptcy.

Justice said he has rehired every single employee and has beefed up their benefits packages.

And while he admitted it would take a while to build back meetings business, he said transient business has been good.

"I can tell you on two of the weekends in June we were completely sold out," he said.

"Business here is terrific compared to what we projected the business to be. Is the business here off-the-charts good yet? Of course not. But it far exceeds what our projections were.

"Over the last few years we lost a lot of groups," Justice said. "We're going to have to get those back along with new ones."


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