Neighbors ready for Marriott Marquis hotel


Alem Abebe, owner of First Cup Café at the corner of Ninth and M Street NW. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Jeffrey MacMillan )

When the owners of Bolt Burgers were searching for a place to set up shop last fall, they chose the corner of 10th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW for one big reason: the pending arrival of Marriott Marquis, Washington D.C.

The restaurateurs hoped the 1,175-room hotel, which opens Thursday, would become a steady source of new business for the burger joint.

“We think it’s going to have a big effect,” said Bolt Burgers Manager Bruce Hicks, whose brother works for Marriott International. “We’re already talking about increasing our staff once [the hotel] opens.”

Throughout the Shaw neighborhood, many say the promise of the sprawling convention center hotel, which has been in the works for more than two decades, has helped attract new development to the neighborhood. A number of new restaurants and shops have cropped up along the perimeter of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in recent years, and longtime shop owners say they hope the hotel will help bring new visitors to the area.

“It’s going to keep people in the neighborhood,” said Juan Stewart, a manager at Cuttin-Up Barber Shop, which has been on 9th Street NW for 20 years. “Right now, people come for conventions, but they stay over on New Hampshire Avenue or even further away. We need them to stay here.”

The $520 million Marriott Marquis is the product of decades of financial wrangling and contentious land swaps. The hope, city officials have long said, is that the hotel will further revitalize downtown Washington and draw hundreds of thousands of dollars in new convention business.

“The project is not only going to be the key to the revitalization of this area, but it will be a key to one of our burgeoning industries: tourism,” then-mayor Adrian M. Fenty, said in November 2010 during the hotel’s groundbreaking ceremony.

Back then, city officials cited figures that the District had missed out on more than $250 million in conference bookings because of the lack of a convention center hotel.

The city’s $206 million investment in a convention center hotel did coincide with a resurgence in development interest in downtown, though it is difficult to assess how much the two are related. The larger test will be whether the hotel can lift the convention center’s lackluster performance.

Convention bookings have dropped in recent years because of government budget cuts and private sector belt-tightening. According to a March 26 disclosure in support of the center’s revenue bonds, the convention center held 204 events in fiscal 2013, exactly the same number it hosted in 2009. Attendance in 2013 totaled 1,086,556, up slightly from 1,054,921 in 2009. In the District, citywide bookings accounted for 363,652 nightly hotel bookings in 2012, down from 480,892 in 2011.

That’s not stopping the Marquis’ owners — District based firms Quadrangle Development Corp. and Capstone Development — from building more hotels in Shaw. The companies have three more properties in the works: A Residence Inn by Marriott, a Courtyard by Marriott and a 200-unit apartment building, to be located directly north of the Marriott Marquis. All three are scheduled to open in early 2017.

Shaw is turning “into a five-star neighborhood,” said Alem Abebe, owner of First Cup Cafe on 900 M St. NW. “I think a lot of that is because of this big hotel.”

But, Abebe says, there are also downsides. Yes, the Marquis will likely bring more customers, but its arrival has also pushed up property taxes in recent years. Rent has doubled since 2008, and competition is growing by the day.

“All of these years, there hasn’t been a whole lot around here,” he said. “All of a sudden, there are four fancy restaurants on this block.”

Baby Wale, the much-buzzed-about restaurant by Tom Power, opened last fall on 9th Street NW. A couple of blocks away, on 7th Street NW, the Bicycle Space caters to a steady stream of hip cyclists. Blackboard, the District-based education technology company, is headquartered nearby.

Negest Dawit, who owns TG Cigar on 9th Street NW, has been in the neighborhood since 2006.

“Back then, you would see one person walking by every four hours. Now it’s every minute,” Dawit said.

But, she added, she wasn’t sure how much of that growth could be attributed to the Marriott Marquis.

“Is it because of the hotel? I don’t know,” she said. “Every part of the city is changing a lot.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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