People like the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
It’s modern, airy, bright and — for a big space — easy to negotiate.
One thing that it is missing is more (and better) food stations. Maybe that’s why it always seems so clean.
But one big thing it has been missing for the past decade is a dedicated convention center headquarters hotel as part of the complex.
“It’s a big deal,” said Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans. “We’ve lost many conventions that want the rooms next door to the convention center. They wouldn’t come here.”
The hotel was caught up in political and legal disputes over where it would be built and how it would be funded. After opening the convention center in 2003, the city simply did without a headquarters hotel. Evans, whose ward contains the majority of hotels in the city, helped broker an agreement that freed up the plan.
“It really should have been built concurrently with the convention center,” Evans said.
But now things are different.
On Monday, Mayor Vincent Gray led reporters on a tour of the Marriott Marquis hotel construction site. The 1,175-room hotel is going up on the corner of 9th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW, right across from the center itself. Underground passageways will connect to the center.
When completed and opened on May 1 of next year, it will be the largest hotel in the city.
Is there anticipation? Yes, there is.
City officials said the new Marriott already has booked 330,000 room nights and has another 250,000 tentatively booked. Marriott and its partners also are planning construction of two smaller hotels on L Street just north of the headquarters hotel.
It’s all part of building a convention center complex that will compete with other big city destinations.
As Mayor Gray emerged from a vast, underground ballroom, he was praising the 1,000 new jobs at the hotel in addition to the 700 construction jobs. He said the hotel will strengthen the city’s hand in drawing conventions.
“We had 17.9 million people who came to D.C. last year,” he told NBC4. “That will increase by tens of thousands of people just by virtue of having a hotel that can accommodate groups that otherwise would come here.”
The Hotel Association of Washington, DC, is happy, too. It has 98 member hotels in the city.
“The city is strong. The city is positioned very well,” said association executive director Solomon Keene Jr. “Hospitality has been indicated as one of the city’s major growth areas. We’ve know that for a long time.”
Evans said the new hotel complex will ultimately have a total of 1,500 rooms. “Finally,” he told NBC4, “we will have the world-class convention complex we always envisioned.”
■ Hotels by the numbers. The Washington Business Journal reported last week that President Barack Obama’s second swearing-in drew fewer hotel stays than the second for President George W. Bush.
Reporter Michael Neibauer noted that for Obama this past Jan. 20, hotel occupancy in the District was 81.6 percent. The metro region was 75.2 percent.
In 2005, Neibauer reported, Bush filled 95 percent of the available rooms in the city for his second swearing-in. It was 88.6 percent region-wide.
There are about 76,000 workers in the hospitality industry so they like it when the occupancy numbers are up.
■ The mayor’s job. Last week we wrote about the nascent mayor’s race after Ward 6 D.C. Council member Tommy Wells filed papers to create an exploratory committee.
At the Marriott this week, a reporter asked Mayor Gray if he had the record to run for reelection. Of course, the mayor said, yes. He said he has kept his promises of a fiscally sound government and made improvements in schools, economic development and other issues.
But will Gray seek reelection?
“I like this job,” the mayor said. “And I’m going to continue to do this job every day. And when the point comes to make a decision [on running again], I’ll make the decision.”
It’s clear the mayor would like to continue. He’s healthy and he believes he can make the case on what he has done as mayor. But the ongoing federal investigation still hangs over everything Gray does or doesn’t do.
■ Bloated federal workforce? While many federal workers (and private contractors) worry about sequestration, one organization wants to knock down the general feeling that the federal government is a growing, bloated bureaucracy.
Remapping Debate, an online group, compared the federal workforce today to what it was in 1978, based on the population of the country at the time.
“It turns out that overall executive branch federal civilian employment is effectively down quite substantially from the 1978 peak,” said its recent report.
Based on the nation’s population and federal workers in 1978, that workforce would have grown in 2011 to 1,714,832 employees. But the federal workforce in 2011 was actually 1,372,000 — about 20 percent below the projection. The population has grown 40 percent.
The review doesn’t include the growth of federal contracting in which private workers do government work. That certainly could affect the numbers.
Check out the work yourself at remappingdebate.org.