Marriott CEO: Our three-hotel bet at Water Street Tampa reflects how Tampa is evolving

Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson tries on his hard hat before the groundbreaking of the JW Marriott Hotel at Water Street Tampa Tuesday in downtown Tampa. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times
Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson tries on his hard hat before the groundbreaking of the JW Marriott Hotel at Water Street Tampa Tuesday in downtown Tampa. JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
Published April 24, 2018

TAMPA — The world's biggest hotel company already has 29 properties in the Tampa Bay area, but its CEO says a plan to put more than 1,400 rooms in three Marriott-branded hotels within a few blocks of each other says something about how Tampa is evolving.

"Tampa has got extraordinary potential." Marriott president and CEO Arne Sorenson said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday after a ground-breaking ceremony for the new JW Marriott in the $3 billion Water Street Tampa development.

"Never underestimate the power of weather," Sorenson said. "Florida has got sunshine and has got a great destination. If you think about the competition for the meeting business, Tampa can be much stronger than it has been in the past and will be with these kind of investments, not just in these hotels, but those that are happening around the city."

By the end of 2021, Marriott will have three hotels within a two-minute walk of Amalie Arena and the Riverwalk:

• The Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, with 727 rooms, fresh off a $40 million renovation. (The rooms have already been redone. Work on the public spaces will begin in a month or so.)

• A JW Marriott, scheduled to open in the summer of 2020. The 519-room hotel is expected to cost more than $200 million to build.

• A 173-room Marriott Edition, which Marriott is creating with hotelier Ian Schrager, known for his daring re-invention of the Gramercy Park Hotel In New York City.

"The Edition brand, particularly, is one that is really betting on Tampa being a powerfully stronger destination in the years ahead," Sorenson said. "It is a five-star lifestyle brand."

Of the three, the Marriott Waterside is expected to have the lowest rates, the Marriott Edition the highest. Together, they'll employ about 1,200 people — 400 at the Marriott Waterside, 450 at the JW Marriott and 350 at the Marriott Edition — the smallest, but the most luxurious, with the highest level of service.

"It will be rich with food and beverage," Sorenson said of the Marriott Edition. Unlike the hotel itself, whose customers will mainly come from out-of-town, the Edition's restaurants and bars will serve locals as well. Tampa's food scene is already asserting itself, he said, with a "vibrancy" that's drawing more young professionals.

"The reason we say we're betting on the market to some extent is for these hotels to be successful financially and to support the service levels that are required in order to deliver what the customers expect you obviously need to be able to drive enough of that demand to make it work," Sorenson said. "We think we've got a good shot of doing that."

A critical mass of hotels also gives you an ability to market to bigger groups and market the destination." Sorenson said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Having JW Marriott at Water Street Tampa expected to help Tampa pursue more upscale conventions

All three of the hotels will be owned and built — or renovated, in the case of the Marriott Waterside — by Strategic Property Partners, the real estate development firm created by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, through his Cascade Investment capital fund.

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Along with the JW Marriott, Strategic Property Partners plans to break ground on a total of 10 buildings at Water Street Tampa over the next year. They include three office projects, apartment buildings and condominium towers encompassing 1,500 residences, a grocery store, a gym, and about 50 stores and restaurants. That's about 3.5 million square feet of development in the first phase of the project, which is expected to be complete in late 2021.

"This day has been a long time coming — we know it," said Vinik, who bought the first piece of property near Amalie Arena six or seven years ago. "In no way did we have the vision that we have right now."

By 2014, Vinik first unveiled a plan for a project without a name at a third of the size of the $3 billion in development that SPP now plans. The total project will encompass 9 million square feet, including some existing structures like the arena, on 55 acres, "and perhaps growing at some point," Vinik said.

Ultimately, Water Street also will include a new University of South Florida medical school building, which is already under construction, and a new home for the Museum of Science and Industry.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Tuesday was a day to prove wrong "all the naysayers."

"The folks who didn't believe Tampa could do something like this, didn't believe that Jeff was real, didn't believe that this project was real. It was too big. There were too many moving pieces," he said. "All of that's true, but it's happening and we're going to get this done.

"So for those who don't believe," the mayor said, "you need to come down here and see this."

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Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times