Monday, February 11, 2013

New Hotel Attempts to Boost Convention Center

Builders will incorporate the circa 1915 United Association building.
The Washington Marriott Marquis hotel is under construction at the corner of 9th and Massachusetts NW. Not just another DC hotel, this behemoth development is key the city's plan to stay competitive with convention bookings. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is located across 9th street from the hotel site. It is competing with --and often losing out to-- the National Harbor's Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. The Gaylord is coincidentally operated by... Marriott. 

The main driving forces behind the building of this hotel are to give convention attendees and organizers an option to stay at the convention site and the option to stay together; as opposed to scattered around the District in various smaller hotels. The Marquis will have 1,175 rooms and suites, second to the Marriott Wardman Park with 1,300. The Omni Shoreham has 836 rooms. The Gaylord at National Harbor has 2,000. 

Will the Marquis be able to save the District's convention business? That was the plan when Mayor Fenty, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Marriott company officials were on hand to break ground in November 2010. The hotel will be closely tied to the Convention Center. There will be an underground concourse between the two structures. Inside the hotel itself will be 128,000 square feet of meeting/ballroom space, six restaurant & bars, and 31,000 sq ft of retail. The building will be 14 stories tall. However, most of the new meeting space will be below street level, down to 94 feet. That's nearly 10 stories below ground. Delivery of the Marquis is expected in spring of 2014 and Marriott has already begun signing contracts for rooms and conventions.

Builders are seeking a LEED Silver rating. The entire development will cost $520,000,000. The District and the Washington Convention and Sports Authority are contributing $206,000,000 of the total. That's 39.6% of the total cost. That's less than the city contributed to Nationals Park (virtually 100% of $535 million), but more than any other entity so tied to a private company, that I know of. 

I'm really interested in this development. As a citizen, I'd like to see the District's convention center investment pay off, financially. On the other hand, I can't say I support helping one of the world's largest hoteliers build a hotel which will likely produce the same profits without city help.

I personally think too many medium and small sized cities built convention centers in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s. But DC ought to have a successful and vibrant space. I'm also really intrigued about the fate of National Harbor. Will it embrace its identity as a large resort that strives largely due to its proximity to nation's capital? With a planned casino, multiple hotels, and an over-curated collection of retail, restaurants and bars, it seems to be leaning towards resort town, not a true edge city or even bedroom community. Very interesting case(s). I'll be keeping an eye on both developments as each builds  towards completion. 

Looking west towards the Marquis from the convention center.
9th and L Streets NW
L Street