In a effort to create more hotel rooms within walking distance of the George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston city council is blessing a deal to build a new Marriott Marquis on Avenida de las Americas between Rusk and Walker.
Officials with the RIDA Development Corporation and city government group Houston First Corporation — the entities leading the project — say that the building will produce more than 1,800 construction jobs, as crews break ground in 2014. When the hotel opens in spring 2016, another 700 jobs are expected to be added to the local hospitality industry.
Directly north of the GRB between Rusk and Capital, Houston First will build a parking garage with 1,800 spaces to accommodate guests and downtown visitors.
According to company vice president of acquisition Luke Charlton, RIDA proposed one of the lowest municipal incentive packages of the 11 bidders on the hotel development. City council members approved the following for RIDA:
- $27 million in grant money from the city
- $31.7 million land donation from Houston First, which will purchase the site from the city
- city rebates for sales, hotel, property and beverage taxes for the next 20 years (not including METRO and ISD taxes)
- state rebates for sales and hotel taxes for next decade
- RIDA will lease garage space from Houston First for roughly $1.2 million a year
- RIDA will own the building
"While Houston is the fourth largest city in the country, it doesn't have the reputation as a convention destination," Charlton says. "With the Marriott, though, we hope to get meeting planners to see the city in a new light. Building on the work Houston First has done throughout the GRB area like Discovery Green, we plan to truly elevate the city into the national convention market."
Critics of the Marriott package frown upon the idea of handing over $58.7 in cash and land incentives to RIDA — noting that, a decade ago, the city funded a GRB expansion, the Hilton-Americas and Discovery Green using $316 million in public bonds without offering tens of millions in direct grants to developers.
Houston First CEO of hotels Peter McStravick tells CultureMap that the city corporation is in a different place than it was in the early 2000s.
"While are current financials are strong, we simply don't have the same collateral as we did ten years ago," McStravick says. "All of our bond leverage is still locked up in the Hilton-era projects, which is why we needed a developer to front a significant portion of the funding."
The total Marriot project is projected to cost roughly $324 million, according to McStravick. Of that, RIDA will pay the $266 million to build the hotel with the city balancing out the rest with its $58.7 in cash and land incentives.
Leading the design of the new building is Houston firm Morris Architects, which will work with both RIDA and Marriott throughout 2013 to devise a welcoming environment that meshes with the surrounding cityscape.
"This can't just be another 1,000 rooms. The project needs to transform the area and feeling around the convention center," architect Doug Childers says. "This is a very open urban hotel, rather than a closed-off island."
"We've decided to design the hotel from the ground level up, making sure the busy public area will connect with the park both visually and literally."
As such, an open public plaza across from Discovery Green will mark the hotel entrance rather than a dark vehicle drop-off zone.
"We've decided to design the hotel from the ground level up, making sure the busy public area will connect with the park both visually and literally. The building will have activity on all four corners with a sports bar, coffee shop, restaurant and possibly a local retail space."
As an added bonus, future Marriott guests will get to experience firsthand what is sure to be one of the city's kitschiest landmarks to date . . . a gigantic swimming pool in the shape of Texas.