DC Mayor Touts New Convention Hotel

With gold pen in hand, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty signed an agreement earlier today to bring a 1,150-room Marriott headquarters hotel to a two-acre plot of land across the street from the Washington Convention Center.

Well, technically, it was a re-signing.

The memorandum of understanding to put the long-squabbled-over deal back on track was signed by the District, Marriott International and the Washington Convention Center Authority Friday.

Today, it was the mayor's chance to tell a smattering of newspaper reporters and television cameras he now hopes to have the hotel built by 2011.

"The message of today is that the days of losing conventions because we don't have a large enough hotel close by are over," Fenty said.

Marriott and RLJ Development, the hotel company started by BET founder Robert L. Johnson, had been planning to build a 1,400 room hotel at Ninth Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW. That plan appeared to be in jeopardy until a new deal was struck with Marriott last week.

The mayor's office said it is now negotiating directly with Marriott and it is up to that company to decide who the developer of the hotel will be. A source close to the deal said it was a personal commitment made by J.W. "Bill" Marriott, Jr. himself to Fenty and his aides last week that enabled the three parties to reach an agreement

Conspicuously missing from the ceremony this morning was a representative of RLJ. A spokesman for Marriott, Roger Conner, said, "We're obviously taking the lead but Johnson is still in the deal."

RLJ development did not return a call seeking comment.

The city will be putting up the same amount for the hotel, $134 million, generated by bonds paid from hotel taxes. The mayor said that paying the same price for a scaled-back hotel still made sense for taxpayers because the true economic benefit lies in the extra tourists the hotel will attract.

"This is a government town, but tourism is our industry," the mayor said.

"It will open a floodgate of new business for us as we go forward," added Bill Hanbury, president and chief executive of the D.C. Convention and Tourism Corp.

To break ground, the city must still complete a 1.5-acre, land-swap with developer Kingdon Gould III for land the city owns at the old convention center site, at Ninth Street and New York Avenue NW. Gould III has said he was confident the swap would go through.

At least one skeptic of headquarters hotels exists. Heywood Sanders, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who studies the performance of convention centers, said in a recent interview that public-private partnerships for large, headquarters hotels have often been difficult because of the very nature of the convention center business.

"It turns out in many cases that centers don't yield the kind of increased demand and hotel room night activity that their proponents commonly suggest," Heywood said. "That even when they do perform reasonably, their performance, as in the case of the new Washington center, is often not necessarily predictable or consistent."

--Alejandro Lazo

By Dan Beyers  |  September 24, 2007; 5:34 PM ET  | Category:  Marriott International Corp.
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