Gary Walton, who played a central role in the renaissance of the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center as a premiere destination in Southwest Virginia over the past 20 years, will retire from his current position as the hotel and conference center’s general manager on July 31 and become a professor of practice in the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Virginia Tech.
Walton, with 39 years experience in the hotel industry, has spent the last 23 years as the general manager of the Hotel Roanoke. In 1994, he led the pre-opening efforts a year before the doors to the renovated hotel and new conference center opened on April 3, 1995.
“Under Gary’s leadership and vision, the Hotel Roanoke has become a centerpiece for the City of Roanoke and one of the most highly regarded hotel and conference centers in all of Virginia,” said John Dooley, chief executive officer of the Virginia Tech Foundation. “He has supported our area civic and business leaders as the hotel and conference center became a major contributor to the growth and vitality of the region. As a professor of practice in the Pamplin College of Business, Gary will take his expertise and experience and engage the next generation of hospitality and management professionals with those who serve our community today.”
“The success of both the hotel and the conference center and its impact on our region is a tribute to Gary's leadership and to the effective and talented team he has been able to assemble and retain,” said Debbie Moses, executive director of the conference center commission, which owns the conference center part of the structure. “A major attribute of his success has been his commitment to making sure that the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center continues its legacy as a critical community asset for Roanoke and the region. Gary is and will continue to be a respected community leader and ambassador, and I am thankful for his service and leadership.”
"Benchmark Hospitality was recently honored to include Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center into our portfolio, as well as veteran hotelier Gary Walton,” said Cedric A. Fasbender, vice president for operations at Benchmark Hospitality International. “The community and hotel and conference center have had the privilege of Gary’s influence and entrepreneurial spirit for the past 23 years with incredible success. We wish him well in his new role and thank him for the tremendous impact he has made on all of the associates and guests that have passed through the doors of this iconic hotel and conference center.”
Originally built in 1882 by Norfolk and Western Railway, the Hotel Roanoke served the region for more than century until it closed its doors in November, 1989. Following a $42 million project to renovate the hotel and build a conference center, the “Grand Old Lady” reopened in 1995 through a partnership between the City of Roanoke and Virginia Tech.
Since its reopening, the hotel, owned by the Virginia Tech Foundation, has become a Roanoke region landmark and the hotel and conference center have infused more than $600 million into the local economy. The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Since February, the property has been managed by Benchmark Hospitality International and became part of Hilton’s Curio Collection. The Hotel Roanoke is the new brand’s first hotel in Virginia.
“The renaissance of the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center has been a tremendously gratifying project to me,” said Walton. “The many partnerships between the hotel and the community has been particularly gratifying to me because of the positive impact on the people of the greater Roanoke Valley. I look forward to sharing my experiences with Virginia Tech students and will continue to work within our community to make it stronger.”
A native of Northeast Ohio, Walton graduated from The Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
He began his career with Stouffer Hotels for nine years, holding a variety of positions in location across the country.
He joined Doubletree Hotels in 1986 as a general manager in Denver, and later held similar positions at hotels in Atlanta, Overland Park, Kansas, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina before coming to Roanoke in 1994.
During his 23 years at the Hotel Roanoke, the property won 11 PRIDE Awards and four Connie Awards based upon quality of service as rated by customers. The Connie is the highest award given within the brand.
In addition to his work as general manager, Walton serves on the Roanoke's Convention & Visitor Bureau's board, Virginia's Blue Ridge Hospitality Association's board, the Pamplin College of Business Department of Hospitality and Tourism Advisory Board and Jefferson College of Health Sciences board of directors.
He also co-chairs fundraising events with his wife, Lucy, for the American Cancer Society and has served on the United Way board and chaired the annual campaign in 2014.