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With Final Approval Secured, White Lodging to Start Construction on the $300 million,
1,012-room, JW Marriott Downtown Convention Hotel in Austin, Texas

By Shonda Novak, Austin American-StatesmanMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 18, 2012--Construction is set to start next week on the downtown JW Marriott convention hotel, after the developer recently received final approval of the project's building plans from the city of Austin.

The $300 million hotel will rise 33 stories on the east side of Congress Avenue and Second Street. It will have 1,012 keys, making it the world's largest JW Marriott in room count when it opens in early 2015. Crews have been working on the site, relocating underground utilities. Late next week, construction is expected to begin on the project itself, with the first phase being a three-story underground parking garage with 458 spaces. The garage will take nine to 10 months to build, followed by construction of the hotel.

More than 40,000 room reservations have already been sold, said the hotel's developer, Indiana-based White Lodging Services Corp.

"We are incredibly excited about delivering this signature project for Austin," Deno Yiankes, White Lodging's president and CEO of investments and development, said in a statement to the American-Statesman. "This hotel will be a game-changer for the city's tourism industry, and I believe that is already being confirmed by the number of rooms we have pre-sold. A convention hotel of this size and quality will take Austin to the next level in recruiting national conventions and events."

Mayor Lee Leffingwell said the project represents "the single largest investment in downtown Austin to date and will offer significant economic benefits to the city, including tax revenue and job creation.

"The hotel is expected to generate more than $16 million in taxes annually, with $5 million to $6 million going directly to the city of Austin each year," Leffingwell said. "It will also put people to work, and that's always good news."

The project is expected to create more than 2,500 construction jobs over the next two years. Once open, the hotel will employ more than 700 people with an average wage of $38,000 a year.

Another convention hotel also is in the works for downtown, a 50-story tower with 1,000 rooms to be operated by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. The developer, Manchester Texas Financial Group, plans to break ground next spring on the $350 million Fairmont Austin at East Cesar Chavez and Red River Street. The Fairmont is expected to create 800 jobs during construction and 1,000 permanent jobs after it opens in 2015.

The two new hotels, along with a Hyatt Place that White Lodging is now building, would bring downtown's hotel room count from about 6,000 to more than 8,330.

City tourism officials and industry experts have said Austin is losing a sizable amount of convention center business because it can't accommodate events that require large blocks of rooms in a few hotels. Austin's sole existing convention hotel is the 800-room Hilton Austin, next to the Austin Convention Center.

Doug Manchester, president of Manchester Texas Financial Group LLC, the developer of the Fairmont Austin, said Friday that "it's great to hear JW Marriott is breaking ground."

"We thoroughly believe this is a much-needed thing for city, and Austin will benefit tremendously from these two trophy projects," Manchester said. "Together, we will greatly enhance Austin's ability to attract the larger conventions. On the Fairmont front, we have been working diligently through the entitlement process and look forward to breaking ground this spring."

The JW Marriott will have 115,000 square feet of meeting, banquet and exhibition space, two restaurants, outdoor seating and public art along Second Street and Congress, plus retail at Third and Brazos streets.

Yiankes has said that in the hotel's first year, it will generate enough tax revenue to offset concessions the city gave the project.

Contact Shonda Novak at 445-3856


(c)2012 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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