A group of residents, developers and business owners wants to pitch Marriott International on moving its headquarters to White Flint.
The Friends of White Flint is planning a strategic campaign to at least get the possibility of relocating to White Flint/the Pike District on the hotel giant’s radar.
Speculation about the Fortune 500 company’s future has run rampant since early this month, when CEO Arne Sorenson told the Washington Post Marriott plans to move from its Bethesda corporate headquarters by the time its lease is up in 2022.
Many in the Friends of White Flint, a group formed to ensure the area’s redevelopment is done according to the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan, see potential for Marriott to move to Metro-accessible, yet-to-be-developed office space that could spur the area’s new look.
“It can make the community,” Friends of White Flint Executive Director Amy Ginsburg said Wednesday. “You want to be live, work and play and if there’s no work, it’s hard to sustain it. A major corporation like Marriott, it brings jobs, it brings stability, it brings sustainability.”
The company has about 2,000 employees at its Bethesda headquarters, in the Rock Spring office park on Fernwood Road.
Sorenson told the Washington Post that he’s looking for a location that’s transit accessible to appeal to a younger workforce. The White Flint Metro station would seem to serve that purpose, and was perhaps the largest reason why Montgomery County moved to allow the massive amount of new residential units and commercial space under the 2010 Sector Plan.
“This might be the single best thing that could be done to really kick off White Flint and turn it into what we’d like to see it be,” said Saul Centers Senior Vice President Brian Downie.
Saul Centers is planning four residential towers and one office tower on either side of Rockville Pike just south of the Metro station. The project is in the Planning Department’s approval process.
Members of the Friends group discussed the idea of pitching Marriott at their Wednesday community meeting.
Ginsburg said it would likely take the form of a presentation to Marriott representatives. The Friends will form a task force dedicated to the effort.
She said the group’s message will be focused exclusively on promoting White Flint (or the Pike District), not on tax incentives that Marriott will likely be seeking from state and perhaps local governments.
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. That never happened and now there are a little more than 2,000 employees at Marriott’s Bethesda headquarters.
“All we’re saying is the Pike District is a good place,” Ginsburg said.
“We promote a particular philosophy, developing for sustainable, walkable, transit-oriented businesses,” said Barnaby Zall, who founded the Friends group as the Sector Plan was taking shape. “If we can attract an international corporation to that, as opposed to just some trendy or chain businesses, it would be a tremendous feather in our cap.”
What makes the group optimistic, other than the access to Metro, is the amount of land available for the large amount of office space Marriott International could be looking for.
Besides the Saul Centers project, large-scale office buildings are envisioned for the White Flint Mall site and the LCOR site, which sits directly north of the station. LCOR already completed one new Class A office building at the station for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has long been based just across Marinelli Road.
Pike & Rose, the first major project under the Sector Plan to be built, is gradually filling its office space, according to Federal Realty’s Evan Goldman. The Rockville-based developer landed Bank of America Merrill Lynch to take over 40,000 square feet of its 80,000-square-foot Class A office building on the new Grand Park Avenue.
But Goldman, also a member of the Friends group, said more is needed to make White Flint/the Pike District work over the long-term.
“Retail does not work without office,” Goldman said. “The restaurants can’t exist on dinner only.”
He also said the relocation of Marriott in White Flint could spur the type of other hospitality companies that have sprouted up around Marriott in Montgomery County.