Almost a year ago to the day, the Austin City Council enacted a zoning change and turned over a public alley in the most effort to lure a major convention hotel to Block 18 — the Congress Avenue block that used to house Las Manitas and which was at one point going to be taken over by a very large Marriott hotel. A year ago it seemed the unpopular project was dead forever, now it is reported that the 30-story hotel project across from the Austonian is likely to start construction next year.
The Congress Avenue Marriott — a 1,003 room hotel complex on 2nd and Congress avenue — was one of the most controversial, and one of the least popular downtown projects when originally proposed. The project is best known for displacing Las Manitas and other local businesses. Before being cancelled, the last two versions of the project were criticized for bland institutional architecture and a lack of ground-floor retail on a key block connecting the convention center area to the second street district. The original plan for the project included 1,000 rooms across 3 separate Marriott-branded hotels in one convoluted multi-faceted building. The second version of the project included two hotels in one building. Version 3.0 included just one Marriott hotel with 1,000 rooms. The budget at one point reached $250 million before the project was shelved.
Now the project is back. If the city agrees to waive $4.3 million in fees, White Lodging Services Corp. plans to begin the design and engineering process for the project almost immediately. Once completed, the 27-30 story block wide tower would be the largest hotel in Austin.
The Downtown Marriott as Originally Proposed
The sad thing is that the city does badly need downtown hotel rooms and another large convention center hotel. The issue with the Marriott project as previously proposed is that — unlike the highly popular W hotel — the hotel is monolithic, architecturally uninteresting, lacks retail, fails to engage the surrounding streets, and brings no community venues or resources. It comes across as a pure profit play subsidized by tax payers and without regard for the advancement off the neighborhood.