It’s rare a place can be so controversial before it even breaks ground, but such has been the case with the JW Marriott hotel, slated for an opening in downtown Austin in 2015.
Part of the reason lies with what the hotel displaced: beloved tex-mex eatery Las Manitas, located at Second St. and Congress Ave. A popular and inexpensive lunch spot with politicos, downtown workers and the bleary-eyed alike, Las Manitas’ closing in 2008 – precipitated by the knowledge a new convention center hotel would be opening on its grounds – prompted another round of soul-searching for what the true “Austin experience” was, and whether it was in danger. The Las Manitas quandary was even prominently featured in a book on Austin’s “weirdness.”
The Austin City Council even considered offering incentives to the restaurant to move, before the proposal was rebuffed in the face of mounting controversy. Still, disagreement over the city’s stance towards the JW Marriott development persisted into 2011, when the council debated whether to waive millions in construction fees. Opponents depicted the waivers as a loss in needed revenue, while proponents pointed to the millions of dollars in taxable property base and hotel occupancy fees the 2,500 room hotel will produce.
This morning, JW Marriott developers White Lodging Services Corporation issued notice that, despite a start on construction, the hotel has already booked its first block of convention center reservations: for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners gathering in 2015, catapulting this story into the Austin consciousness again.