As sunlight filtered through a haze-filled sky Tuesday, revelers snagged freely flowing mimosas from trays circulating through the small parking lot next to the Tacoma Convention and Trade Center.
Filled with dignitaries and well-wishers during a groundbreaking ceremony, the lot soon will host construction workers and equipment. By this time next month, demolition on a parking garage might have begun on the site of a 22-story Marriott hotel.
“This is a historic moment,” said Jack Zhang, with the developer Yareton Investment and Management LLC. “We will witness the growth of the hotel every day.”
The developer picked the date of the groundbreaking — Aug. 8, or 8/8 — with the help of a Fung Shui master. Even the address, 1538 Commerce St., harkens to the lucky number. Eight is lucky in Chinese culture, because the word sounds similar to the Chinese word for “wealth” or “fortune.”
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The moment had been years in the making: trips to China to build relationships with investors, months of contract negotiations with the city. The project was delayed nearly a year as the developer rounded up financing.
The convention center was built more than a decade ago, with hopes that one day a hotel would be built next to it, said Mayor Marilyn Strickland. Now, after millions of dollars of public investment nearby — including the University of Washington Tacoma and the Link Light Rail — the city is seeing private companies take interest in the City of Destiny.
“This has an opportunity to be a game changer for our city,” she said of the 300-room hotel while the hum and soft chimes of the light rail cars faded into the background.
Nearby hotels fill quickly, said Kristi Sell, an office manager for the convention center’s food and beverage caterer, Aramark. Some conventions move to Seattle because there’s not enough room here.
“With a large hotel, we are going to get the larger events now,” Sell said.
The $85 million hotel will employ 1,647 people and draw 102 foreign investors into the U.S. market, said Chun Yang, CEO of Shanghai Mintong Real Estate Co., parent company of Yareton.
“Tacoma has been a symbol of friendship between China and the United States for more than 20 years,” he told the crowd through an interpreter.
Around the first of October, one more crane will be added to the Tacoma skyline. When complete in 2020, the 300-room Marriott will offer a swimming pool, 10,000-square-foot ballroom, several meeting spaces and ground-floor retail spaces along Commerce Street.
“It’s great to see the renaissance that’s happening in Tacoma. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?” said Dan Evans, senior vice president of operations for Interstate Hotels & Resorts, the hotel operator that includes Marriott in its portfolio.
Yang lit sticks of incense and directed people to an offering table containing fruit and meats. It’s a traditional place to pray “for good fortune and safety” for the project’s future, he said.