You can check out any time you like…

A nice hotel.  By Erica_Marshall on Flickr

A nice hotel. By Erica_Marshall on Flickr

but you can never leave!

Our long hotel saga is over. Maybe.  Multiple reports (from DCist, DCmud, Housing Complex, and others) confirm that the DC Council passed a bill to fund the Convention Center hotel.  The initial plan involved a massive use of public funds, understandably drawing criticism from many council members.  The original bill would have pulled money from other stalled projects already promised District funds, effectively axing them before they have a chance to get started.  This bill puts more of the onus on the developer.

From the Business Journal:

D.C. is poised to provide $206 million in public financing for a 1,167-room Marriott Marquis across from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and $2 million for a related training program, after the D.C. Council passed legislation for the financing Tuesday.

Members of the council say they believe the funding, which will cost the city $272 million in all to finance the debt, will jumpstart the project, which has languished on the market.

City Paper has juicy quotes, too:

At a recent hearing, Evans invoked images of crumbling bureaucracy and decrepit school buildings to describe the value of big money projects to the city.

“I want you to imagine a District of Columbia without a Verizon Center and a convention center,” he stated. “It would probably look like Detroit.”

Plus, Shaw locals came out and said they really wanted some nice restaurants and stuff in their neighborhood.

So there you have it.

Hyperbole for the win!  Having spent a good of time in Detroit, let’s just say DC has a lot more going for it than Motor City.  It’s also worth noting that Detroit has had its fair share of shiny projects – including convention centers, sports facilities, parks, and the like.   These kinds of projects are a piece of a puzzle, but they don’t solve it.

Not too long ago, Next American City had a great article on the Convention Center space race.  Attached hotels like this are one other way in which centers compete against each other in a cutthroat business.

That said, this hotel isn’t necessarily a bad idea in concept.  Next American City notes:

Ultimately, convention centers are an example of the tail wagging the dog: If cities had pleasant, vibrant, appealing neighborhoods — of the sort that create their own economies and draw visitors — they wouldn’t need contrived assembly spaces in the first place. Most convention centers are removed from their communities by virtue of becoming developments that are about drawing people into the city, not about being integrated in the city culture and fabric. “In the end,” says Sanders, “what you’re getting is a box, however nicely done, that is competing in a marketplace crowded with other boxes.”

Economics aside, DC’s convention center’s design at least stands the chance to integrate itself into the community.  Given the vacant lot the hotel stands to occupy, active uses on that site might help draw foot traffic up 7th and 9th streets and offer new retail opportunities in those areas.  DC already draws tourists by the boatload and has plenty of pleasant and vibrant neighborhoods, but losing out on convention business to National Harbor just sticks in too many craws.

The economic deck may be stacked against these kinds of facilities, but there aren’t many options for each individual city.  There’s no choice to but to step up and play – it’s all about making sure you’re playing smart and don’t get taken to the cleaners.

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