Coming soon: Austin’s largest hotel will be a monster meeting place

Austin’s largest hotel will be open soon. When, exactly, is the big question.

The 1,048 rooms Fairmont Austin will yield will put it atop Austin Business Journal’s list of the largest regional hotels, besting the JW Marriott by 36 rooms. On top of that, much-anticipated restaurants and meeting space will come online.

But when?

“We’re eagerly awaiting a few final updates before releasing a new official date,” said spokesman Casey Barks. “Since November, necessary inspections have been passed, which are big milestones that have moved us into our final stages, keeping us on schedule for our early 2018 opening.”

The hotel was originally pegged to open in summer 2017. In fact, Forbes listed it as one of the world’s 17 hot hotel openings for last summer.

But undisclosed delays during construction have hampered plans. Behind the scenes, a legal tussle between general contractor Hunt Construction Group Inc. and Cobb Mechanical Contractors Inc. — the mechanical and plumbing subcontractor on the massive project — has been unfolding. In its suit filed against Cobb in March 2017, Hunt Construction alleged that back in 2016, the $350 million downtown development “was at a near standstill,” according to the court documents.

South By Southwest Interactive Director Hugh Forrest said his company is planning to host events at the Fairmont in mid-March such as the “intelligent future track,” which promises to plunge SXSW badgeholders into a realm where smart cars, deep machine learning and intelligent devices reign.

That event took place at the JW Marriott last year, and Forrest said space was lacking so he’s looking forward to the “big rooms” at the Fairmont. About 140,000 square feet of meeting space will be found there — roughly what the Palmer Events Center offers.

Forrest said he’s been assured by hotel staff that they will be ready by SXSW’s kick off on March 9, but he added that his team has a backup venue just in case.

The Fairmont’s opening has been a long time coming. The developer, a subsidiary of Manchester Financial Group out of San Diego, kicked off the local crew in earnest in early 2015 when it hired Michael McMahon to lead sales and marketing. In 2016, hospitality veteran Tom Voss was hired to be the general manager.

In August 2017, with the 37-story tower looking almost complete on the outside, Fairmont announced that 800 new jobs were on the horizon. It rented out Brazos Hall downtown to host a pair of hiring events.

An untold number of people have secured jobs since, and Fairmont currently lists about 70 open positions on its website — mostly for servers, barkeeps and similar jobs.

From a competitive standpoint, the city’s two other convention-center hotels — the JW Marriott and Hilton Austin — will likely feel the most heat from the Fairmont, but experts said its presence will undoubtedly be felt across the region.

“What would also be great, and I’m not sure it’s happening yet, is if downtown hotels would drop their rates,” Forrest said.

That’s a tall order for hoteliers. A glance at SXSW.com’s hotel booker states there are no hotel rooms available in Austin during the first night of SXSW. About 20 Airbnb options outside downtown pop up, however.

With the average SXSW attendee staying five nights, that equates to many attendees needing to set aside more than $4,000 just for lodging.

“Couch crashing is very common,” Forrest said.

Source: Austin Business Journal
Colin Pope, Editor

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