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July 13, 2018

Poplar Springs changes hands for $4 million

Photo/Poplar Springs
Built in 1928, the stone manor house at Poplar Springs has housed a restaurant for about 15 years.
It’s a diamond in the rough, and we intend to polish it.
— Antonio Cecchi
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A Northern Virginia hospitality company that operates three other events centers has purchased the Poplar Springs Inn & Spa at Casanova for $4 million.

The 172-acre property’s sale closed Wednesday.

Poplar Springs becomes part of the Gala Cuisine group, which includes Raspberry Plain Manor and Rose Hill Manor in Leesburg and Foxchase Manor in Manassas. The company specializes in weddings and large events, many for Fortune 500 companies.

“It’s a wonderful, historic property,” said Antonio Cecchi, chief executive of the new ownership group. “We like that it’s no more than 60 minutes from the center of the city.

“Everyone who has owned it has added value,” Mr. Cecchi, 49, added during an 80-minute phone interview Friday. “It’s a property that needs to evolve and move up to the next level of its progression.”

He declined to discuss the specifics of plans for Poplar Springs, which includes the Manor House restaurant and reception hall, a 21-room inn, spa and saltwater swimming pool set among Southern Fauquier farmland and forest. The property lies about seven miles southeast of Warrenton.

Gala Cuisine will unveil some of its plan for the property during a reception Tuesday, Aug. 7, at Foxchase Manor, its newest and largest events center, Mr. Cecchi said.

“We look at all the assets and how they can be of best use and evolve,” he added. “It’s a diamond in the rough, and we intend to polish it.”

That started Wednesday, when Mr. Cecchi brought 50 managers and staff members from his other properties to Poplar Springs for a day of tours and meetings to discuss the possibilities.

“We decided it was time (to sell) and, because of our core business, we couldn’t give it the attention it deserved,” said Mike Eisele, who with Richard Thompson led a group that bought Poplar Springs for the bargain price of $2.1 million in early 2014.

Mr. Eisele and Mr. Thompson, both Fauquier residents, own and operate 20 elder care facilities in the northeast. They have more dementia care beds in New Jersey than any other company.

“We’re just tickled that we’ve got somebody experienced in the business and who has the capital” to make improvements, Mr. Eisele said.

Poplar Springs’ previous owners about three months ago quietly listed the property with Middleburg real estate broker Paul MacMahon, who contacted Mr. Cecchi.

The new ownership group’s leader knew the property, where he had catered events years ago.

Mr. Cecchi described the easy drive down Route 28 from Manassas to Fauquier.

“It turns into a beautiful, two-lane country road, with farms on both sides and the villages of Catlett and Calverton. It’s six miles from the county line to Casanova Road and then a few miles to Poplar Springs.”

He added: “I brought my team out and asked, ‘Can we make this place fabulous?’ I saw sparkles in their eyes.”

Although tight-lipped about his company’s plans for the property, Mr. Cecchi described himself as “a big preservationist,” with experience in architecture. One of his company’s other properties soon will go under conservation easement, he said.

Poplar Springs closed Monday, two days before the sale’s completion. Also Monday, Gala Cuisine’s staff called the 40 clients who have booked events at the Casanova property and assured them everything would proceed, Mr. Cecchi said.

The local property’s employees also have jobs if they want to stay with the new company, which can offer more opportunities, he added.

He formed Poplar Springs LLC to own the Casanova property, which includes four land parcels. The company this week also established a line of credit of up to $3.28 million from Sandy Spring Bank for the property, according to county real estate records.

Poplar Spring’s new owner comes from a family of real estate developers. His father, Giuseppe Cecchi, who heads the IDI Group in Arlington, built the Watergate complex in Washington and tens of thousands of condominiums in the region, among other projects.

While his three siblings work in the family company, Antonio Cecchi focuses on the events business in Northern Virginia. His parents decades ago owned a farm near Warrenton, he added.

Mr. Eisele and Mr. Thompson’s group bought Poplar Springs four years ago, after the successful bidder at a foreclosure auction failed to secure financing for its $3.4-million offer.

The previous owners, Howard Foer and wife Lauren Levine, had invested about $9 million in the property, including construction of the inn.

Attorney and businessman Robert Randolph Hicks spent more than $41,000 to build the stone manor home, which has housed the restaurant, in 1928. The property remained in his family until 1995.

> Click here to read the property’s history

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francis81 · July 16, 2018 at 2:34 pm
Wonderful news for a venue that has not been in good hands these last few years. The current ownership, while local, seemed more interested in making money on a distressed business (their specialty, as opposed to building/investing in businesses from the ground up) than putting a thoughtful strategy and necessary capital behind the inn and restaurant. Also great to see that current bookings will be honored--already a notable positive change. Hopefully just the first of many steps in the right direction.
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