LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The owners of 21c Museum Hotels, the Louisville-grown boutique hotel chain, will sell an 85 percent stake in the business to Paris-based AccorHotels, a major hotel operator in Europe, for at least $51 million.

Founded by Brown-Forman Corp. heiress Laura Lee Brown and her husband Steve Wilson in 2006, 21c Museum Hotels now has properties in eight cities, each with a contemporary art museum, hotel and restaurant. Three more locations are on the way.

In an interview Tuesday, Wilson said AccorHotels is “a really good fit” for 21c and will enable the brand to expand “in a way that we could not have done without them,” including internationally.

“We can take advantage of their power and their expertise in hospitality,” he said.

Wilson declined to say much about expansion plans, but said Paris would be a “great city” for a 21c.

“I like the people there (at AccorHotels),” Wilson said. “They appreciate who we are and I have confidence that 21c will maintain true to its brand.”

AccorHotels will buy a controlling stake in the 21c Museum Hotels brand and management company, which provides services to the museum-hotel properties under the brand’s flag.  Brown and Wilson will keep a 15 percent stake in the management company.

Brown and Wilson could have exited completely, but AccorHotels wanted them to remain involved as minority shareholders, Wilson said.

Other shareholders in the brand and management company include Junius Real Estate Partners, a unit of J.P. Morgan Private Bank, which invested in 21c in 2015, and members of the 21c senior management team, according to Greenberg.

While AccorHotels will control the management company, the individual hotel properties – including their real estate – will continue to be owned by Brown, Wilson, Junius and other local partners.

The deal with AccorHotels has an undisclosed “earn out” provision that could make it worth more than $51 million depending on the company’s future performance.

21c has grown from its flagship hotel and contemporary art museum on Main Street in downtown Louisville to locations in Bentonville, Ark., Cincinnati, Durham, N.C.; Kansas City, Lexington, Nashville and Oklahoma City.

Properties are in the works in Des Moines, Iowa; Miami and Chicago.

“When we started we never dreamed we’d have more than one,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he has no concerns that AccorHotels will consolidate 21c’s Louisville headquarters into its home base in Paris or its North American headquarters in Toronto.

“If that were possible I wouldn’t have sold,” Wilson said.

The deal will close later this year. 

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 WDRB News. All rights reserved.