Austin’s largest hotel, JW Marriott, opens doors

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s largest hotel, the JW Marriott at Second Street and Congress Avenue is welcoming its first guests Friday after years of planning, challenges and construction. The building is 34 stories, boasts more than 1,000 rooms and event organizers have booked the hotel to last through the next five years. The hotel is also helping with employment; they’ve spent the last few months hiring for 800 positions.

The hotel also features three distinctive restaurants. The eateries and the cuisine includes a regional Italian restaurant, a lively Texas-fare restaurant and food truck-style burger bar.

KXAN News has been covering progress on this project since 2008 — when three longtime downtown businesses had to shut down after the owner sold the land to Marriott developers. There was a lot of uproar at the time over the loss of Las Manitas — a popular restaurant at the site. The block was also home to retailer Tesoros Trading Company and La Escuelita del Alma — one of the only preschools downtown. But the economic downtown forced the original developers to back out of the deal, and the block remained empty for four years — eventually hosting a string of mobile food trailers. They had to move out in June to make way for the construction of the hotel.

With big crowd-attracting events, like SXSW this spring and Austin City Limits in the fall, demand is high for Downtown Austin hotel rooms, but industry experts say Austin’s occupancy rate in 2014 grew at its slowest level in five years because no new, significant hotels opened. Now, the JW Marriott could potentially cause hotels to drop room rates to remain competitive.

There are three other hotels currently under construction. Hotel Van Zandt, which will have more than 300 rooms, is being built in the Rainey Street district. It should open in May. In July, we’ll see a new Westin downtown at Fifth Street and San Jacinto Boulevard, with more than 360 rooms. Hotel ZaZa on Fourth Street between Guadalupe and Lavaca streets will have 160 guest rooms. That’s slated for late 2016. And in 2017, we can look forward to Austin’s largest hotel opening, the Fairmont. It’s under construction now at Cesar Chavez and Red River streets, next to the Austin Convention Center. The Fairmont will boast more than a thousand rooms, plus a four-level underground parking garage.

There will be a ceremonial “first check-in” at 10 a.m. at the JW Marriott Friday, as the hotel welcomes Maj. Walter Engle, who is based at Fort Hood, and his family. Engle has served in the Army for more than 18 years and has been deployed eight times. The JW Marriott Austin donated a weekend stay at the hotel for his family, including his wife and three children, in appreciation for his service to our country.

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