Marriott International, a major local employer and national hotelier, is making an “in-town” move, relocating its headquarters from North Bethesda to downtown Bethesda. That sends an important message: walkable urban places and proximity to transit, specifically Metro but also the coming Purple Line, are economically crucial.

Photo by José Carlos Cortizo Pérez on Flickr.

Marriott International announced in March of 2015 that it would not be renewing the lease on its current Fernwood Road headquarters, inside the I-270 spur at the Beltway. According to Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, it was “essential that we be accessible to Metro.

Today, Marriott International announced that it’s moving to downtown Bethesda.

“It’ll be great to have a more convenient option for public transportation,” said a current Marriott employee who asked to remain anonymous. “Proximity to restaurants and shops is a great plus as well. Now we’re next door to a mall, but it’s good to have different options.”

Younger workers want travel and lifestyle options, and Marriott’s relocation is about competing for this workforce talent. It’s worth noting that Marriott competitor Choice Hotels (think Comfort Inn) is also headquartered in Montgomery County, in an office building across the street from Rockville Metro.

Marriott International’s current headquarters in a North Bethesda office park. Image from Google Maps.

Back when Marriott announced its coming move, Maryland, DC, and Virginia instantly went into battle mode over the $17 billion corporation, which the Washington Business Journal called “the hottest corporate relocation prospect currently in the market” because of its 2,000+ employees and its need for hundreds of thousands of square feet of premium office space.

With sequestration and base closures tightening the office market, developers were ready to fight for a big client. Regional elected leaders vowed to compete as well (though more voices are speaking up for regional cooperation, instead of a race to the bottom).

Marriott isn’t the first company to want a move like this

In looking to relocate near Metro, the hotel giant is in step with a bigger trend. Suburban office parks all over our region are losing tenants to walkable urban places. Prior to Marriott’s announcement, the company’s current neighborhood office market in North Bethesda already had a vacancy rate of 19%.

The Marriott relocation will happen when the company’s current lease ends in 2022. If that date sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the year Purple Line service is planned to begin! That powerful vibration you just felt is the synergy between economic development, land use, and transportation aligning in downtown Bethesda.

The exact site is still a mystery. The planned redevelopment of the Apex Building to make way for the Purple Line station only includes about half of the office space square footage that Marriott is looking for — and Marriott also wants to build a 200+ room hotel. We’ll have to stay tuned for exactly where Marriott will go and how they’ll find all that space in an already-dense urban place.

Virginia and Prince George’s County probably never had a chance, given that Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson lives in Somerset — and CEO commute distance is a noted predictor of firm location. In that regard, today is not the big win for greater regional cooperation and jobs/housing balance that some hoped for.

Tracy Hadden Loh loves cities, infrastructure, and long walks on the beach looking for cool shells. She holds a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from the UNC-Chapel Hill. By day, she is a senior data scientist at George Washington University. By night, she is an activist, a military wife, and a baby mama. She served two years representing Ward 1 on the Mount Rainier City Council in Prince George's County, MD.