Choice Hotels nears deal to move headquarters to Rockville

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, October 25, 2010; 3

Choice Hotels International is preparing to relocate from Silver Spring to Rockville, likely ending a competition among local officials eager to attract jobs to their jurisdictions.

Choice franchises more than 6,000 low-cost hotels through 11 brands, including Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality and EconoLodge. Its 160,000-square-foot headquarters, where about 400 employees work, are located on Columbia Pike in Silver Spring, in office buildings the company has rented for more than 30 years.

Choice could remain there, but the offices, built in 1971 and located far from Metrorail, do not carry the cache or accessibility that a new building could. Franchisees visiting Choice's headquarters for training programs cannot easily stay at one of the chain's hotels; many franchisees now stay at competing hotels nearby. By contrast, Hilton Worldwide's new Fairfax County corporate headquarters are adjacent to the Hilton McLean, which the chain uses as a testing site for new ideas.

"We would really like to have a hotel on site where we can host our franchisees," said Heather Soule, a Choice spokesman.

Last week, the company notified employees that it was nearing a deal to relocate to the Rockville Town Center area and expected to make an announcement in coming weeks.

The likely destination is an office building proposed by developer Foulger-Pratt. Foulger-Pratt teamed with another developer, Reston-based Duball, which could build a hotel nearby in what is now a parking lot in front of a Regal Cinemas movie theater. Marc Dubick, a Duball principal, said bringing Choice to Rockville would further advance the area's ongoing redevelopment, especially if it were twinned with a Cambria Suites hotel, one of the company's more stylish brands.

With the company's lease set to expire in 2013, Choice has been considering its options. Using the brokerage firm Studley, it has spent months looking at various locations, ultimately inspecting more than 50 sites and contacting officials in the District, Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland to inquire about incentives. Soule said the company prefers a site that is Metro-accessible and that would limit the commuting time for the company's employees, many of whom live in Maryland.

Another site that Choice has considered is North Bethesda Market, a mixed-use development by JBG that is also on Rockville Pike.

Steve Silverman, the Montgomery County director economic development, said incentives were being made available to Choice, but he would not disclose them. "Montgomery County and Maryland have made a very aggressive offer to retain Choice in Montgomery County," he said. "We will do whatever it takes."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company