Elected officials, business owners and community leaders gathered in front of Marriott International’s Bethesda headquarters Wednesday to make their pitch for the Fortune 500 company to remain in Montgomery County.
The Friends of White Flint, a group of residents, developers and small business owners, sees the possibility of landing Marriott as a potential boon for the redeveloping area around the White Flint Metro station.
Executive Director Amy Ginsburg showed off an ad paid for by the group at the bus stop just outside Marriott’s building reading, “If Marriott picks the PIKE DISTRICT, you’d be eating dinner by now.”
The event was billed as a media kickoff for the group’s “Pick the Pike District” campaign, referring to the selection last year of “Pike District” as the White Flint area’s new name.
County Council member Roger Berliner, District 17 state Sen. Rich Madaleno and District 16 state Del. Marc Korman joined the group, which is hoping to get Marriott’s attention about six years before its lease is up at its longtime Fernwood Road headquarters in a Bethesda corporate office park.
In March, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson told The Washington Post the company plans to move its corporate headquarters to a more transit-accessible location by the time its lease ends in 2022.
That kicked off intense speculation about where the headquarters, and its roughly 2,000 jobs, may end up. It also stoked conversation about the lingering impression of Montgomery County as unfriendly to business—something county officials have repeatedly claimed isn’t the truth.
“The moment The Washington Post broke the story about Marriott considering a move, we wrote a letter to Marriott offering many great options available in Montgomery County,” said Korman, who along with other District 16 representatives has been in touch with Marriott officials.
“The Pike District has what they’re looking for,” Korman said. “It has Metro access. It has the space. It has a nightlife and a day life that will work really well for a 21st century corporate workforce.”
Ginsburg, local insurance agent Howard Feldman, and Grosvenor resident Heather Dlhopolsky pointed to the area’s new restaurants and entertainment venues, plus what’s planned for future development along the Rockville Pike corridor.
“The Pike District is just a couple of miles away from here,” said Ginsburg, “so that’s a clear benefit for Marriott employees, the majority of whom live in Montgomery County.”
Berliner, Korman and Madaleno promised they’d work with the county and state governments to retain Marriott, which could attract Virginia, Washington, D.C., and other areas as suitors.
“They need to stay here,” Madaleno said. “Our plan is to do everything possible to make sure whatever incentives, whatever they need to stay here, they will stay here and continue to call Montgomery County home.”
Since Sorenson’s announcement, Marriott officials have been tight-lipped about what the future might hold.
However, Sorenson said in an interview to appear in the September/October issue of Bethesda Magazine that the process of relocating will take time.
“The overwhelming likelihood is we will not be in this building after the lease expires. And so that means we need someplace else. And we have 900,000 square feet in this building. Even if we are more efficient about our use of space in the future, we’re not talking about a small office space,” he said. “I think there are places in Montgomery County that can be accessed by public transportation, have an urban feel, and where we could build a new building that would meet our needs. But there are obviously places in Virginia or D.C. that could be considered, as well.”
Sorenson said he’s spoken with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, and officials from other states about the company’s possible move.
“The likelihood of our moving out of the Washington area, where we’ve been for our entire 88 years, is very slim. The overwhelming likelihood is that we will be in the Washington area for many, many decades to come,” he said. “I suspect sometime in 2016, or more likely in 2017, we’ll start to zero in on a location or two.”
One thing the “Pick the Pike District” organizers know they can’t do is offer Marriott the type of financial incentives that will very likely accompany the move.
In 1999, the state agreed to give Marriott $9 million to remain in Bethesda and the county sped up road improvements around the Fernwood Road headquarters. In exchange, the company promised to boost its 3,500-employee base by another 700 jobs.
Those details will be up to the state and the county. Sally Sternbach, acting director of the county’s Department of Economic Development, said in April that keeping Marriott in the county was the agency’s No. 1 business retention priority.
But the Department of Economic Development is a little more than a year away from a major reorganization that will take it out of county government and put it into the hands of a nonprofit board of directors, similar to economic development groups in Howard and Fairfax counties.
Berliner said switching to the new economic development model is something major corporations such as Marriott were looking for. He also said the switchover won’t hurt the county’s chances at keeping Marriott.
“Nothing will get in the way of our county being able to respond to Marriott’s needs,” Berliner said. “Nothing.”
The Friends of White Flint, founded as Montgomery County put together the landmark 2010 White Flint Sector Plan, says creating a walkable, transit-oriented area around the White Flint Metro is its main goal and that a new Marriott headquarters would fit perfectly.
Serving on the group’s “Pick the Pike District” task force are representatives from major area developers including LCOR, JBG Cos., Lerner Enterprises, B.F. Saul and Federal Realty Investment Trust.
Three of those developers—LCOR, Lerner and the Saul Centers section of B.F. Saul—have major office projects planned for the Rockville Pike corridor in the White Flint area.
Federal Realty, developer of Pike & Rose in North Bethesda, opened an 80,000-square-foot office building last year and landed Bank of America Merrill Lynch to take up half that space.
The full Arne Sorenson interview with Maura Mahoney will appear in the September/October issue of Bethesda Magazine
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