Marriott offered $35 million to stay in Md.; State, Montgomery open drive to retain Bethesda headquarters


State and Montgomery County officials have made a preliminary offer of roughly $35 million in financial incentives to Marriott International Inc. in an effort to keep the hotel giant's growing headquarters in Maryland.

But that figure could rise markedly in the coming weeks, after state economic development officials review wage and salary data from the company. Marriott is expected to supply the information by the end of the month.

"There is no final offer on the table from us," Richard C. Mike Lewin, secretary of the state's Department of Business and Economic Development, said yesterday, "because we don't have all of the necessary data to do a complete analysis. We hope to get that data shortly and formulate a complete offer.

"The state has a responsibility to put forth the best deal possible, because we want to make sure that not only do the existing jobs stay here but that job creation occurs here as well," he said.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said the county also is preparing incentives to retain Marriott, which has more than 3,700 employees.

Although he declined to identify specifics, the county's package could ultimately include property tax breaks, grants, expedited construction and loans.

"The county's going to be very responsive to Marriott's requests,"

Duncan said. "It's critical that we keep Marriott in the state of Maryland and Montgomery County. [If the company moved] it would be a huge blow heard around the world to Maryland's image as a place to do business."

Duncan and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are to meet Monday with Marriott Chairman J. W. Marriott Jr. in an effort to persuade the company not to relocate to Virginia.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, whom Marriott has criticized for maintaining a "stifling" business environment, also phoned the chairman to encourage the company to remain in Maryland.

The Bethesda company, the world's largest hotel operator, said a spurt in growth has caused the firm to explore building a new headquarters in Maryland and Virginia. Nicholas A. Hill, a Marriott spokesman, said yesterday that the company would not comment on offers from either Maryland or Virginia.

"We're still looking at sites and we hope to have it down to a short list soon," Hill said. "We're not commenting on any numbers while we're still having discussions."

Marriott's six-story headquarters has been at the same site for more than two decades. Its lease on the 775,000-square-foot complex expires in 2004.

The company requires additional space because it projects it will hire another 750 headquarters workers within five years.

Marriott executives have told economic development officials that the new headquarters will likely contain about 1.2 million square feet of office space -- nearly the footage of the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago. A building of that size would cost about $150 million.

Virginia officials have offered Marriott about $6 million in incentives, millions of dollars more in road improvements, and amenities such as shuttle transportation for employees. The company has been looking at sites in Falls Church and Tysons Corner.

Marriott plans to make a decision on a future headquarters by the end of March.

"We hope they ultimately come to the same conclusion as we have," Lewin said. "The company was born here, grew up here, Marriott and their employees and their families are rooted in the community, and they attend some of the best schools in the nation in Montgomery County."

Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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