Hotel occupancy rates have dropped steeply because the shutdown has meant a trifecta of key travelers have cancelled trips, B.F. Saul President Mark Carrier said. B.F. Saul owns the Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn in Crystal City and 13 other hotels in Northern Virginia.
Government workers and contractors that would have traveled here for business are canceling reservations, as are visitors with their families and large tour groups concerned they won’t be able to see key monuments and museums in D.C.
“The decline has been quite severe and very impactful,” Carrier told ARLnow.com. “The reality in the hotel business is when you lose business today, it’s gone. October is the strongest month in the second half of the calendar year, so to have this occur right in October is particularly harmful.”
Carrier said the typical occupancy rate in B.F. Saul hotels at this time of year is between 75-80 percent, and estimates that since the shutdown started, it has dropped to around 50 percent. As of Wednesday afternoon it appears Congress is close to a deal to end the shutdown, but Carrier said that doesn’t mean relief is necessarily on its way.
“I expect we’ll see significant effects from this,” he said. If contractors have lost revenue because of the shutdown, “one of the things they cut back on is travel. It seems to be an expense you can say ‘no’ to.”
Carrier said some hourly staff and supervisors have had their hours cut into to try to offset the hotel’s declined revenue, which he called “very painful” as a hotel operator. If the shutdown deal falls through and the Marine Corps Marathon is cancelled, the effects could be even worse. Carrier said his hotels, and many others in Arlington, are usually close to 100 percent occupancy rate during race weekend.
The steep drop in revenue could have impacts for Arlington County’s planned transportation projects as well. The Transient Occupancy Tax — commonly known as the hotel tax — helps pay for the funding in last year’s transportation package, and will take a hit from the drop in hotel visitors.
Authorities are trying to figure out why a box of old medical waste was left outside a hotel in Rosslyn this afternoon.
Police were first called around 3:00 p.m. to investigate a suspicious package, found next to a trash can outside Le Méridien hotel at 1121 19th Street N. Upon looking through the contents of the worn cardboard box, police discovered what was reported to be human waste.
Firefighters were then dispatched to the scene to conduct a hazardous materials investigation. They discovered sealed medical waste with labels indicating it was from 1985, according to Battalion Chief Daniel Fitch. Among the contents were blood and various needles.
“There was no leakage, no threatening note,” he said. “I guess whoever dropped it off wanted it to be someone else’s problem.”
A duty fire marshal is remaining on scene to ensure that the waste is disposed of by a qualified contractor. So far, there’s no word of any suspects or criminal charges related to the incident.
Photos by Audrey Batcheller
This weekend, the Arlington County Board is expected to consider a plan to build a new hotel on the former Colony House furniture site at 1700 Lee Highway.
The hotel is slated to be branded as a Hilton Homewood Suites. Developer B.F. Saul plans for the hotel to be 8 stories tall, with 168 rooms and 102 parking spaces.
“Due to the extreme topography of the site, which rises 20-50 feet in elevation from the northern to the southern property line, the two levels of parking are at grade and visible along Lee Highway and at the corner of North Quinn Street,” Arlington County staff wrote in a report to the County Board.
The staff report anticipates “marginal” increases in traffic at nearby intersections after the hotel opens, with no additional traffic delays expected. The hotel is roughly a half mile from the Rosslyn and Courthouse Metro stations.
The County Board is set to consider the project at its Saturday meeting. If the Board approves a rezoning and site plan for the hotel, developers hope to have it built and open at some point in 2014.
The new Residence Inn by Marriott hotel in Ballston (650 N. Quincy Street) is welcoming its first guests this afternoon.
The hotel, which is part of the Founder’s Square development, has 183 hotel suites, 1,880 square feet of retail space, 110 underground parking spaces, an indoor pool, fitness center and a landscaped terrace. It was built to LEED Gold sustainability standards with features like a green roof and reduced water use and energy consumption.
The groundbreaking for the $36 million, 11-story hotel took place in October 2011. Its construction was completed ahead of schedule, according to a press release from The Donohoe Companies, which built and is now managing the hotel.
Residence Inn is Ballston’s first extended-stay hotel, according to the company. An official “grand opening” ceremony is planned for June.
McDonnell has vetoed two bills that would have allowed Arlington County to levy a 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge. The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) surcharge would have helped fund the county’s tourism promotion efforts, and was actually lobbied for by the Hotel General Managers’ Committee of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
Del. Bob Brink (D-Arlington), the sponsor of the House bill (HB 2303) that passed last month, says the governor called him on Monday night to tell him that he was planning to veto the bill. Gov. McDonnell said he was vetoing Arlington’s TOT bill, and a similar bill for the City of Fairfax, because he was concerned about Northern Virginia hotels being “placed in a competitive disadvantage in comparison with D.C. and Maryland,” according to Brink.
The local hotel tax surcharge increase bills came at the same time as a legislated increase in the regional TOT in Northern Virginia, as part of the state’s sweeping transportation funding package. McDonnell also reduced the Northern Virginia TOT increase from 3 percent to 2 percent on Tuesday.
(Other amendments to the transportation package made by McDonnell include a slight reduction in the proposed vehicle titling tax — from 4.3 to 4.15 percent — a reduction in the new annual fee paid by owners of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles — from $100 to $64 — and the reduction of a regional congestion fee.)
In a statement, Brink said that McDonnell’s veto of his bill will hurt, not help local hotels.
I’m disappointed that the Governor has taken this action and that the Arlington bill got caught up in the larger politics of the transportation bill. The concern that the Governor expressed to me — our hospitality sector’s competitive position in relation to neighboring jurisdictions — is the precise reason that Arlington’s hospitality industry sought this legislation. In the uncertain economic climate of the DC region, Arlington’s hotels need all the tools available to compete for tourism and business travel. HB 2303 would have given them one powerful additional tool, and I regret that our business community won’t have it at its disposal.
Man Sentenced for Harassing Arlington Woman — A 47-year-old I.T. worker from New England has been sentenced to 7 years in prison for stalking and harassing an Arlington mom and her 16-year-old daughter. Bruce Stimon was accused of emailing the woman’s friends and saying she had an STD; posting her name, photo and work phone number on prostitution sites, secretly recording a video of them having sex, posting it on porn sites, and sending it to her daughter’s Twitter friends; and repeatedly slashing her tires. [WJLA]
Arlington Hotel Tax Passes House — A bill that would restore Arlington’s authority to levy a 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge has narrowly passed the Virginia House of Delegates. The bill earlier passed the state Senate, but the House bill contains a three year sunset provision that wasn’t in the Senate version, meaning the House and the Senate will need to hash out a combined bill in order for it to reach the governor’s desk. [Richmond Sunlight]
Navy Sets USS Arlington Commissioning Date — The new USS Arlington will be commissioned in Norfolk on April 6, the Navy has announced. [Sun Gazette]
Tejada Says No to Anti-Streetcar Groups — Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada has declined requests from groups critical of the Columbia Pike streetcar seeking to make presentations at an upcoming streetcar community forum. Tejada said the purpose of the forum, on March 27, is to “update the community” on the streetcar project, not to debate the Board’s decision to build the streetcar. [Sun Gazette]
The surcharge expired on Jan. 1, 2012 after Del. Tim Hugo (R), of Fairfax County, blocked a renewal bill in retaliation for Arlington’s lawsuit against high occupancy toll lanes on I-395. The Hotel General Managers’ Committee of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce has been calling for the Virginia General Assembly to reestablish the taxing authority, which brought in nearly $1 million per year to fund tourism promotion efforts.
A bill proposed by Howell today would allow Arlington County to reinstate the tax surcharge on hotel rooms, and extends the taxing authority in perpetuity. The bill has been referred to the state Senate’s Committee on Finance.
Arlington Small Business Saturday – This holiday weekend, in addition to today’s traditional Black Friday shopping bonanza, Arlington residents will be able to participate in “Arlington Small Business Saturday.” The day encourages Arlingtonians to shop and dine at small, local businesses this weekend. ”Your favorite retail, dining and online small businesses are participating and providing discounts or incentives on a variety of products and services,” according to organizers.
Retirement Ceremony for Therapy Dog – Bailey, a therapy dog at the Capital Hospice Halquist Center near Virginia Hospital Center, is retiring after 10 years of service to those who have life-limiting illnesses. A private retirement ceremony will be held for Bailey, a golden retriever, at the hospice center on Monday night. “Cider, special Goldrush brownies and dog treats will be served,” according to an online invitation.
Library Recovers from Database Crash — The electronic catalog and accounts system for Arlington Public Library and Arlington Public Schools is back up and running after crashing last Friday. “We are very pleased to report that our system is back online, along with research databases, and that most if not all data feared lost has been recovered and restored,” the library said on its web site. “Your privacy was never compromised. We are taking steps to prevent such an outage from happening again.” [Arlington Public Library]
Homeless Navy Vet Gets Apartment — Ernest Maas, a 61-year-old Navy veteran, is giving thanks this Thanksgiving weekend for the roof over his head. Maas got the keys to a new apartment in Arlington on Wednesday after spending the past three years homeless and living in the woods around Four Mile Run. The new apartment was coordinated by the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network. [WJLA]
Arlington Hotels: Tax Us, Please — The Hotel General Managers’ Committee of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the Arlington Tourism Coalition are hoping to lobby the Virginia General Assembly to reinstate the county’s hotel tax surcharge. The 0.25 percent tax on hotel rooms in Arlington generated nearly $1 million per year that went to tourism promotion efforts. State lawmakers declined to renew the tax last year in retaliation for Arlington’s fight against HOT lanes on I-395. [Sun Gazette]
According to police, a man walked into the hotel lobby around 6:30 p.m. and pointed a gun at the desk worker while demanding she get on the ground. The suspect then went behind the desk and took an undisclosed amount of money from the cash register.
While the suspect was in the lobby, a customer entered the area and the suspect turned the gun on him, ordering him to the ground. The suspect then fled through a back door. Nobody sustained any physical injuries in the incident.
The suspect is described as a white man, around 5’10″ with a medium build. At the time of the robbery, he was wearing khaki pants, a dark jacket, a dark winter hat and a dark scarf that covered part of his face. The witnesses said he appeared to be in his 40s.
There are no pictures of the suspect because the hotel’s surveillance camera was not working at the time of the robbery. Besides the two victims, there were other people near the hotel lobby at the time of the incident, but they claim to have not heard or seen anything. According to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck, those people were visiting from another country and had been drinking.
Anyone with information about the robbery or the suspect is asked to call the non-emergency line at 703-558-2222.
The hotel’s cleaning staff discovered the man unresponsive in a bathroom stall around 9:00 a.m. on Monday (Sept. 17). He was sitting on a toilet, slumped against the back wall. Paramedics were called but they were unable to revive the man, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.
The man was a resident of Bowie, Md., according to police. It’s not clear whether he was a guest in the hotel.
Authorities believe the man had a heart attack while on the toilet. His death is not considered suspicious.
Arlington County says tourists and visitors spent $2.7 billion in Arlington in 2011, an increase of 7.6 percent over the $2.5 billion spent in 2010.
The $2.7 billion in spending represents 13.1 percent of all tourism dollars in the Commonwealth of Virginia, making Arlington the top county in the state for visitor spending.
The tourism industry is responsible for 24,000 jobs in Arlington and generates nearly $74 million, according to the county, citing data from the U.S. Travel Association. Tourism payroll and employment in Arlington both outpaced the statewide averages, up 3.2 percent and 1.9 percent respectively.
“We’re very pleased with the steady growth of the County’s tourism sector,” Arlington Convention and Visitors Service Director Emily Cassell said in a statement. “While we’re still progressing toward the peak hotel occupancy and revenue levels of 2008 and 2009, the significant growth in visitor spending is a sign of good things to come.”
Virginia lawmakers failed to renew Arlington’s 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge in 2011. The surcharge expired after Dec. 31, 2011, and is expected to result in the loss of just over $1 million in annual revenue used for tourism promotion by the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service. Although some general county funds were allocated to make up for the shortfall, the Convention and Visitors Service budget for Fiscal Year 2013 is only $500,000, compared to $1.4 million in FY 2011.
Around 9:45 p.m., a suspect threw hot coffee on the front desk attendant at the Best Western hotel on the 2400 block of S. Glebe Road. The suspect then hopped the counter, stole $450 in cash and a cell phone, and fled the scene in a white sedan, according to police.
A K9 unit and the helicopter were called in, but police were ultimately unable to locate the suspect.
“The suspect is described as a black male, 6’0” tall and 170 lbs,” according to the police report. “He was wearing a black hat, reading glasses, black athletic jacket, white athletic shorts and white shoes at the time of the robbery.”
Pentagon City Elevator Contract Approved — The Arlington County Board has approved a contract to design a second elevator for the busy Pentagon City Metro station. The estimated $5.1 million elevator construction project has already received $4.5 million in federal funding. [Arlington County]
Arlington’s Roads Rate ‘Poor’ — More than one third of Arlington County’s 974 mile street network is in “poor” condition, based on the county’s own assessment. The reason for the poor road conditions may lie with spending. The county has been spending significantly less on paving than the amount recommended by its top streets official. [Patch]
Board Considers Solar at Supermarkets — County Board members say they’ll consider a Green Party proposal to either force or encourage supermarkets to install solar power arrays on their roof. The solar power could help refrigerate food during power outages. [Sun Gazette]
Maywood Neighborhood Profiled — The historic Maywood neighborhood of Arlington is “endearing and peaceful” and “extremely friendly,” according to a radio profile. [WAMU]
Renovations Revealed at Crystal City Hotel — Last week the 343-room Crystal City Marriott officially unveiled its $7 million redesign, which included new common areas like a new bar/restaurant and a new fitness center. [Marriott]
Flickr pool photo by Lifeinthedistrict
A surveillance team observed numerous johns entering and exiting three separate rooms at the hotel, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. They were all followed and confronted when they left the hotel. According to Sternbeck, all the men confessed to having paid for sex and received citations for solicitation of prostitution.
Three women were arrested and charged with prostitution and keeping a bawdy place. The women also admitted to posting online advertisements for sex services, Sternbeck said. An additional woman was charged with receiving money from prostitution.
Police officers seized $2,100 from the alleged prostitutes.
Police targeted the hotel based on information they had gathered about possible prostitution occurring there. This is not the first time the hotel has been used for such activity. In December police detained six people at the hotel on suspicion of participating in a prostitution ring.
The annual National Right to Life Convention will be coming to Arlington later this month.
The convention is billed as the “42nd annual meeting of pro-life grassroots leaders and experts from across the country.” The three day event starts on Thursday, July 28, and will feature six “major sessions,” more than 100 pro-life speakers and more than 70 workshops.
Speakers will include House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
The convention will be held at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, at 2799 Jefferson Davis Highway. The previous two National Right to Life conventions were held in Jacksonville, Fla. and Pittsburgh, Pa.
The Hyatt Regency has been on a roll in terms of booking notable or unique events with disparate themes. It has recently hosted the 2011 DMV Music Awards, the Anime USA convention and the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally, and a trade group meeting about the health of cow udders.