Why Marriott Stayed
An inside account of the hotel giant’s decision to relocate its headquarters to downtown Bethesda, rather than move away
Remarkably for such a huge project, supported by $62 million in government subsidies, including $22 million in county grants, there seems to have been little if any public criticism.
“There was a certain amount of backroom moaning and groaning,” says Nancy Floreen, chair of the county council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. “We suspected that probably [Marriott] might have stayed,” without the incentives, “but we can’t be sure, and who wants that on their conscience? We don’t want to wake up the next morning and hear that a major employer left because they got a better deal elsewhere.
“At the end of the day,” she adds, “we realize it all comes down not to sentiment but to dollars and cents. I think all members of the council agreed Marriott was an employer we wanted to keep.”
Councilmember Marc Elrich went along with the deal, but not happily. “I sort of didn’t have a choice,” he says. “If I voted against it, I would’ve lost. This was all about pride and not about economic development. It all came down to a concern that Montgomery County could lose a Fortune 500 company.”
Elrich didn’t know that Marriott was so set on remaining in the county. “We were put in this situation: Do this deal or lose Marriott,” he says. He now questions claims that the move will be an economic boon to downtown Bethesda.
But others, including Floreen, remain bullish. “I think it’s great for Bethesda,” she says. “I think it’s great for the future of Montgomery County.”
The demolition of existing buildings on the site has begun. Work on the new headquarters and hotel begins this summer, with the hotel’s estimated completion in the first quarter of 2022. Headquarters employees are expected to begin moving into the new offices on July 1, 2022.
It can’t come soon enough for employees like Courtney Stokke, 28, one of the prized millennials whose presence helped propel the move. Stokke, whose title is senior manager for luxury quality, now uses Uber and buses to get to work from her downtown Bethesda condo. “Being able to roll out and walk over there, have that nice breezy walk, will be so great,” she says. “The commute will make my life so much easier.”
Sorenson is looking forward eagerly, and a bit impatiently, to the new headquarters, and is hoping to trade in his classic corner executive office for something more collegial. “This is too insulated from the rest of the building,” he says during an interview in his office. “I’d much rather be engaged with more of our folks and not necessarily banished to executive quarters. How that plays itself out in the new space we’ll have to figure out. I would really enjoy the opportunity to be a bit more in the middle of the hubbub and chaos than in the space I’m in.”
The new office will be closer to Sorenson’s home. He and his wife, Ruth, have lived in the same 3,069-square foot, 1899 house in the leafy Chevy Chase neighborhood of Somerset for nearly 30 years. It’s just under 2 miles, about a half-hour by foot, from the new headquarters. “I would relish the opportunity to walk,” he says. “But we will see. My only frustration is it takes so long building a building. I’d like to move tomorrow.”