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The search is over for Marriott International's new headquarters. The winner is...

Marriott International Inc. has tapped Boston Properties Inc. and The Bernstein Cos. to build its new home at a site just north of the Bethesda Metro station, capping one of the most highly watched corporate headquarters searches in Greater Washington.

Boston Properties (NYSE: BXP) teamed up with D.C.-based Bernstein to reconfigure Bethesda Center, at 7750 Wisconsin Ave., to meet Marriott's (NASDAQ: MAR) steep needs for a $600 million facility. The world's largest hospitality company announced in October it was seeking sites in downtown Bethesda large enough to accommodate a 700,000-square-foot, 22-story headquarters and a 230-plus-room Marriott-branded flagship hotel. Marriott has signed a letter of intent with the developers, pending formal approval. About 3,500 employees are expected to work at the new headquarters. The new campus is slated to open in 2022.

Carolyn Handlon, executive vice president of finance and global treasurer for the hotel giant, said the site by Wisconsin and Norfolk avenues was picked from a short list of three very competitive prospects. The Bernstein-Boston proposal won out for a variety of reasons, including its short walk from the Bethesda Metro station and ability to meet Marriott's top priorities in terms of the building's design, by Gensler, and amenities.

"We think it's going to be absolutely dynamite for our associates but also for all our stakeholders being in downtown Bethesda," Handlon said.

It will feature plenty of natural light and collaborative work spaces, a child care center for its associates, a fitness center and cafeteria. The site's layout over 2 acres was also important, with the hotel and office buildings connected by a public plaza. "We had several very good options, and we then took it to the next step," Handlon said. "We completed some high-level designs to make sure that our program needs would fit on the site."

The site was large enough, at about 1 million square feet of potential development, but required some rejiggering as Bernstein had previously won approval for a 222-key Westin hotel at 7740 Wisconsin Ave. and a 253,000-square-foot office building at 7750 Wisconsin Ave. The Marriott hotel and headquarters will be built on the site instead.

In an email, Boston Properties Senior Executive Vice President Ray Ritchey said he believes Marriott's selection speaks to the caliber of the project.

"We are humbled by the decision by Marriott and excited about the prospect of creating an amazing project together with Marriott and the Bernstein Company," he said.

Other sites said to have been in contention included Carr Properties' Apex site at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. and an assemblage of properties held by multiple owners that included Douglas Development Corp. and Bainbridge Cos., according to sources familiar with the search.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson's disclosure in March 2015 that the company was exploring alternatives to its Fernwood Road campus sparked a competition from developers and local governments across Greater Washington. Montgomery County and the state of Maryland teamed up to sweeten the deal to keep Marriott, offering a total incentive package that could top $60 million.

Bernstein and Boston will own and jointly develop the office building, while Bernstein will own the hotel on its own under a hotel management agreement still being finalized. The project is also pending zoning and land use entitlements and final approval of the incentives offered by Maryland and Montgomery County.

The project will include more than 800 underground parking spaces for the hotel and office. Marriott also proposes to lease Garage 11, the Woodmont Corner Garage, for exclusive use by its associates and guests during normal business hours. The garage would still be open to the public on evenings, weekends and holidays. 

The hotel will include more than 8,000 square feet of flexible meeting and ballroom space and a variety of dining and social amenities, including a seasonal rooftop dining terrace.


Author: Daniel J. Sernovitz @WBJDan