Marriott Chairman and CEO J.W. Marriott Jr. welcomed a crowd of media, customers, staff, and local luminaries to the April opening of the Tampa Marriott Waterside, designated Marriott's 2,000th hotel. "I think I'm the only one here who was also at our first hotel ribbon-cutting 43 years ago," he said. (That was the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in Arlington, Va.) "It's been a long road."
Local officials are thrilled that Marriott's road led to Tampa, as the city aims to become a top meeting destination. The hotel has been somewhat of a catalyst for downtown development projects, including Channelside, a major waterside shopping and entertainment center.
The 717-room Marriott has 50,000 square feet of meeting space and is adjacent to the Tampa Convention Center, which has 600,000 square feet of space. The hotel's dramatic two-story lobby features wrought-iron details and an indoor/outdoor lobby bar, while floor-to-ceiling windows along pre-function areas look over the Garrison Channel and out to Tampa Bay. Unexpected in a convention hotel is the 6,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, offering facials, massages, and salon services.
Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, a major force behind the Marriott project (a meeting room is named for him), likened the downtown renaissance to that of another southern city: "San Antonio took a little creek and turned it into the Riverwalk," he said during a luncheon address in the hotel's elegant Florida Ballroom. "We had parking lots on our working waterfront; now we're going to have boat slips, parks, open spaces. This whole area is going to come alive."
Already very much alive in Tampa is Ybor City. The area was established by a Cuban immigrant named Don Vicente Martinez Ybor, who fled his native country and built a cigar empire in Tampa. He was joined by other immigrants who worked in the 200 cigar factories or built their own businesses--some of which are still run by later generations of the same families. Such is the case with the area's most famous restaurant, the Columbia, whose 11 dining rooms cover an entire city block. The restaurant, with traditional Spanish fare accompanied by cigar-rolling demonstrations and flamenco dancing, is run by the fourth generation of the founding Hernandez family. Centro Ybor, an entertainment complex to include movie theaters, retail outlets, restaurants, and Steven Spielberg's Sega Game Works, a high-tech game room, opens this summer. Plans call for a trolley traveling along a 2.3-mile track from the Tampa Marriott Waterside to Ybor City to begin operation in late 2001.