WASHINGTON – Marriott International today is officially opening its 4,000th hotel – the Marriott Marquis, next to the convention center, setting the stage for the city to become a more appealing option for larger conventions.

Speaking on a stage set up on the mezzanine beneath the hotel’s towering atrium roof, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson noted that the hotel was built “a stone’s throw” from the Marriott family’s original nine-stool A&W root beer stand, which opened in 1927.

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“It is a great continuous line from that business to this 4,000 hotel opening today,” Sorenson said.

The hotel also provides Washington a high-profile symbol to court more leisure travel as well as meetings and conventions.

“We’re in the big leagues,” said Elliott Furguson, CEO of Destination DC, the agency that oversees the marketing of Washington as a tourist destination.

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The District’s mayor, Vincent Gray, said the new hotel also furthers goals to become the “top North American destination for foreign investors.” Today, he noted, the maiden voyage of a non-stop flight from Beijing to Washington took flight.

A stream of speakers at the ceremony spoke about how the project languished for years, and then finally came back to life – in the midst of the recession.

It took 8 million man hours to construct the Marquis and the hotel contains 56 miles of plumbing – the same distance between Washington and Baltimore, said Christopher Gladstone, president of Quadrangle Development, which helped build the hotel.

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Photo courtesy of Marriott International shows Bill Marriott, Jr. toasting – with root beer – the company’s 4000th hotel with (left to right) Donna Marriott; Norm Jenkins, president of Capstone Development, and Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray.