These days, it seems, the start of any major construction project is cause for celebration if for no other reason than to take our minds off of what is not happening.

And so it is with the
Marriott Marquis Hotel, which broke ground Wednesday across the street from Washington, DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

A collaboration of the District of Columbia, Quadrangle Development, and Capstone Development the $520 million 14-story 1,167-room  hotel will enable Nation’s Capital to vie for the still-lucrative convention and trade show business by offering more than 100,000 square feet of meeting and assembly space, and provide a downtown alternative to the two-year-old Gaylord National Hotel just down the Potomac River in Maryland.

In the meantime, there are a host of technical challenges on tap for construction manager Hensel Phelps, including a top-down construction approach, and substantial excavation for the hotel’s expansive underground meeting spaces, parking structure, and tunnel to the Convention Center.

The design by Atlanta-based architectural team of Cooper Carry Architects and TVS Architects calls for incorporating the historic seven-story brick and limestone former headquarters of the American Federation of Labor into the new structure, which is aiming for LEED Silver certification.

Though the new hotel is a P3, it is also a reminder that such initiatives don’t always receive a free pass from concept to construction. Yesterday’s groundbreaking culminated nearly two decades of dispute over how the funding split, plus several lawsuits, including
one by a local developer questioning the legality of the District’s procurement process. Then there were the credit market gyrations that has commercial construction market running on fumes (and rapidly diminishing ones at that).

But memories and mentions of that difficult path were as scarce as clouds in the crisp November sky as a smiling group of local officials sank their ceremonial shovels into a District-donated plot of land, turning earth in the same way they hope the hotel heralds a revived economy for both DC and, more specifically, the adjacent Shaw neighborhood.

Along with the hotel and the promise of hundreds of related hospitality-related jobs, the nearby CityMarket at O Street project is adding one million square feet of residential, retail, and restaurant space anchored by a new grocery store.

Given the hotel’s size and construction requirements, it will still be four years before the first guests check into the Marriott Marquis.  Still, this will certainly be a fascinating project to watch, particularly since from a construction standpoint, it may well be the only show in town for quite awhile.