FAA Alumna and Donor Sheila C. Johnson Opens Luxury Hotel in New Orleans

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sheila C. JohnsonOn Thursday, July 6, alumna Sheila C. Johnson ('70 FAA) presided over the grand opening of the NOPSI Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. Johnson, an accomplished violinist who earned a bachelor's degree in music at Illinois, is the founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, which manages the new hotel.

Named as an homage to the historic building's original use as a utility company, the NOPSI Hotel is a beautifully restored gem in the heart of city's Central Business District. The nine-story brick building opened in 1927 as the headquarters of the New Orleans Public Service Inc. and served the community until 1992 when the offices were relocated. The $33 million renovation project restored the building's architecturally significant features while reimagining the property as a 217-room luxury hotel with 14,000 square feet of gathering space and an upscale, modern restaurant. During the opening festivities, Johnson stated, "It was a project that I knew was near and dear to my heart."

Johnson, a dedicated Illini and impassioned advocate for the arts, generously supports an endowed professorship and undergraduate violin scholarships in the School of Music honoring her mentors Valerie Starrett and Daniel J. Perrino. In 2016, she was honored by the University of Illinois Varsity "I" Association with its first-ever Female Achievement Award. The achievement award is the highest honor bestowed upon a past student-athlete for post-graduate accomplishments (Johnson was a member of the cheerleading squad in 1969 and 1970 and was the first-ever female African-American cheerleader at Illinois).

An entrepreneur and philanthropist, Johnson's many accomplishments include co-founding the groundbreaking Black Entertainment Television (BET) Network, executive producing four documentary films, and founding Salamander Hotels & Resorts. She is the only African-American woman to hold a stake in three professional sports teams: the NBA's Washington Wizards, the NHL's Washington Capitals, and the WNBA's Washington Mystics. Among her other achievements and honors, she was appointed to the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities by President Barack Obama.

Pictured: Sheila Johnson with Vice Chancellor for Advancement Barry Benson and Chancellor Robert J. Jones at the NOPSI grand opening.