EXCLUSIVE: City, Pezold companies agree to major expansion of downtown Marriott

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After nearly 20 years of starts and stops, the city of Columbus is on the verge of getting a true convention hotel that will be attached to the Trade Center.

City and Development Authority officials have confirmed to WRBL News 3 that there is an agreement to expand the Marriott hotel on Front Avenue and connect it to the Convention & Trade Center with an enclosed sky bridge.

The Marriott is owned by Family Holdings Sub LLC, one of the companies under the umbrella controlled by local businessman Jack Pezold. The agreement must be approved by Columbus Council and is on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

Pezold companies Chief Operating Officer Tracy Sayers would not comment on the specifics of the deal, citing a non-disclosure agreement with Marriott.

The city is offering a nearly $4 million incentive package that includes cash, tax breaks, and property. That will trigger a more than $15 million renovation of the existing rooms and expansion of the full-service Marriott.

About $1.3 million of that incentive package would be to construct the sky bridge across Front Avenue south of Ninth Street. The city will own that walkway.

Currently, there are 177 rooms in the Marriott that will be upgraded in addition to about 90 new rooms that will be added. That will bring the Marriott to more than 265 rooms.

“This is big news,” Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson said. “It’s a game-changer, in my estimation, for the city of Columbus. We have long struggled to get into a competitive market with regards to our visitors and this is going to do it.”

It is one piece — though a critical one — in a growing downtown hotel expansion.

The Pezold companies are building an 88-room Hampton Inn at the intersection of Broadway and 12th Street, just three blocks north of the Marriott.

RAM Hotels has a 100-room-plus AC by Marriott under construction in the middle of the 1200 block of Broadway, a stone’s throw from the Hampton Inn. The W.C. Bradley Company has come forward with plans to build a riverfront new hotel just across from the TSYS parking deck along 14th Street.

The Marriott expansion will have no impact on the Pezold-owned Hampton Inn, Sayers told News 3. Construction for that $18 million hotel and parking deck has already started.

“With the expansion of this hotel and the other three hotels that have been talked about and the Courtyard Marriott in Phenix City, that gives us just under 700 rooms within a six-block radius,” Henderson said.

That allows the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau to expand its recruitment of larger conventions for the Trade Center.

A room-block agreement is part of the Memorandum of Understanding outlining the deal. It will allow the Trade Center to block or reserve more than 250 rooms at the Marriott and additional rooms at the Hampton Inn for conventions that require large guarantees. Those rooms will be sold for $125 per night for the first two years of the agreement, obtained by News 3.

Original plans had called for a parking deck to be constructed near the Marriott. That does not appear to be in the plans. Instead, the Marriott owners will lease 125 spaces from the nearby RiverCenter deck to accommodate the additional parking requirements. There will also continue to be surface parking on the property.

Development Authority Chairman Russ Carreker said now was the time to pull the trigger and make a deal to get a suitable number of hotel rooms adjacent to the Trade Center.

“The validity and vibrancy of downtown has made our city more attractive for conventions and the business that the Trade Center is doing and the management that is running the Trade Center now is doing a great job,” Carraker. “Really we just got the demand now that makes the expansion of the existing Marriott and newer hotels down the street. It makes them more viable.”

Henderson agrees.

“We have long struggled to get into a competitive market with regards to our visitors and this is going to do it,” he said.

Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce Executive VP for Economic Development Brian Sillitto was involved in working out the details of the proposed deal.

“I have said it all along, this is a game-changer,” Sillitto said. “It’s 265 rooms across the street from the Trade Center, connected access. It means more people coming to Columbus. It means more conventions. And it means more of a steady flow of activity in the uptown area.”

There has been no timetable on completion of the project, but there will be a six-month period to get the required governmental approvals to move forward. Having a convention hotel attached to the Trade Center is something that city officials have been talking about since the early 2000s when the Trade Center was expanded to its current state.

And it will be years before the impact is fully known.

“I don’t think we will fully understand the change it will make in Columbus for many, many years,” Henderson said. “When you figure out we are able to accommodate almost 700 rooms in the downtown area, the options are almost limitless.”

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