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Tobacco building turned boutique hotel? That's Kimpton's plan

The headquarters of Reynolds American Inc., right, and the Reynolds Building, former headquarters of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., left, stand in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company has sold its former headquarters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, so it can be turned into a Kimpton boutique hotel and upscale apartments.

The 22-story art deco-style Reynolds Building opened in 1929 and was used by architects Shreve, Lamb and Harmon as the prototype for the Empire State Building. The building has been vacant since 2009.

RJR Tobacco sold the building for $7.8 million to a partnership between Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and Philadelphia-based PMC Property Group. Kimpton will take over the first six floors of the building, opening the city's first luxury boutique hotel in 2015.

The 175-room hotel will have 36 suites, two ballrooms, 6,375 square feet of event and meeting space, a 120-seat restaurant/bar and a fitness center. The building still has its ornate murals, ceilings with gold-leaf gilded millwork and elevators with nickel and brass fittings.

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"The R.J. Reynolds Building is one of the most historically significant and architecturally interesting buildings in the country, and we are honored to be able to play a role in adapting it into an exciting new hotel for the city, while preserving its important history and character that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company has taken such great care to maintain," Kimpton President and CEO Mike Depatie said in a statement announcing the deal.

Kimpton earlier partnered with PMC to develop the Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh in the 1903 Beaux Arts-style James H. Reed Building, which is scheduled to open in the fall.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, an indirect subsidiary of Reynolds American, is the second largest tobacco company in the United States and makes brands such as Camel, Pall Mall, Winston, Doral and Kool. The sale of the former headquarters comes as RJR is repositioning itself "by meeting emerging marketplace demands for innovative tobacco products, while redefining how a tobacco company can help reduce the health impact of tobacco use," according to the front page of the company's website.

Adult smoking rates in the United States have fallen to 18 percent, from about 43 percent in 1965, according to a report issued earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The report coincided with the 50-year anniversary of the first surgeon general's warning about the health hazards of smoking.

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It's unclear if smoking will be allowed in the new Winston-Salem hotel.

"We are still in the earliest stages of development on this project," Kimpton's corporate communications department said in a statement responding to a CNBC query about allowing smoking. "Now that the ink is dry on the agreement, we'll start looking at programming, and we've not made a decision on that topic yet."

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