As construction begins on convention center hotel, officials consider its future impact
At long last, D.C. officials are ready to break ground this week on a true convention center hotel, the planned $520 million, 1,175-room Marriott Marquis on Ninth Street in Northwest.
When it is complete 42 months from now, in the spring of 2014, the project will have spanned 19 years, three mayoral administrations and nearly a half-dozen lawsuits.
Whether it is successful could well be known before the first guest arrives, as the Washington Convention and Sports Authority sets out to lure the big events that supporters have said eluded the city in the past because the Walter E. Washington Convention Center lacked a companion hotel.
Major conventions in D.C. today regularly put their guests up in more than 40 hotels. The biggest challenge Washington faces is "the extremely high individual demand for hotel beds whenever Congress is sitting," said Martin Sirk, chief executive of the International Congress and Convention Association, in an e-mail. "It's not always easy for international buyers to obtain large enough room-blocks at attractive prices as early as they would like."
Supporters say the new hotel, being developed by Quadrangle Development and Capstone Development, could change that. Here's a look at what to watch for in determining whether the hotel lives up to expectations:
With the hotel, Gregory A. O'Dell, chief executive and president of the convention authority, has said the number of "priority one" events -- those that bring a minimum of 2,500 stays (or room-nights) in the city's hotels -- should increase from fewer than 15 per year to "the 20 to 25 range consistently." He also wants to increase international events; D.C. hosted 31 major international meetings in 2009, ranking it 51st in the world and second in the nation, according to ICCA.
Natwar M. Gandhi, D.C.'s chief financial officer, has not projected how much tax revenue the project will produce, but he is confident that it will pay off $206 million in public borrowing for the project. Gandhi fought to prevent the city from building a completely publicly financed hotel, as O'Dell had proposed. "Incremental revenue -- sales taxes, property taxes -- from having the hotel there should pay for the debt services," he said.
There are high expectations. O'Dell said the project would produce 1,500 construction jobs and another 1,000 permanent ones. Councilman Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), who becomes council chairman in January, said a $2 million fund for training city residents would be put to good use because of the recent creation of instructional facilities such as the Hospitality High School of Washington, D.C. "These programs are just getting into place at the right time," he said.
D.C. can't compete for the biggest conventions -- those that only the likes of Las Vegas and Orlando can handle -- but O'Dell said he can now fight for everything else and the city will benefit as a result. "We expect some reasonable increment of economic impact for the city," he said. "I mean, right now we have 1 million visitors come through our doors and they generate about $400 million of economic impact. We would expect probably at least 50 to 100 million in incremental impact beyond that with the hotel."