The outdoor swimming pool now is filled, six giant chandeliers light up the ballroom — and the Capitol District’s long-awaited Marriott Downtown is wrapping up other final details before welcoming its first guests on Aug. 8.
Among those scheduled to break in the 333-room hotel aiming for four-diamond status is Omaha’s Scoular Co., which is hosting an event in the glassy 12-story building.
Scoular Vice President Omer Sagheer admittedly was a bit nervous earlier because the hotel opening had been pushed back. He had about 65 people, many from out of town, set to attend an Aug. 8-9 annual bank group convention there.
Just in case, he had a plan B.
“We did get a little anxious,” Sagheer said lightheartedly. “But they kept telling us they’d get it done. They got it done.”
The hotel opening caps a six-year journey for the development team behind the $205 million Capitol District project that includes multiple structures on a two-block stretch near 10th Street and Capitol Avenue.
The 500-stall parking garage was open last month in time to serve fans of the College World Series. Over the weekend, the district’s 218-unit apartment building welcomed its first move-ins. Other residents will come as higher floors are finished. So far, about 60 units have been leased.
The first retail strip is standing and expected to open this fall, followed later by another still-to-be-constructed commercial building. Mike Moylan, whose Shamrock Development led the redevelopment effort, said he’s got about eight leases either secured or in negotiations.
Those main buildings surround an outdoor entertainment plaza that’s about the size of a football field and designed in the spirit of a town square. While not projected to open until Halloween, the plaza is expected to draw groups, private and public, big and small, and year-round programming such as outdoor concerts and ice skating.
The overall setup allows for visitors to flow in and out of ground-level bars and restaurants and the hotel ballroom. Key entrances encourage foot traffic into the plaza.
An “entertainment district” status recently granted by Omaha officials will allow guests to carry alcoholic beverages in the open outdoors area, similar to Lincoln’s Railyard.
Moylan said huge windows, local artwork and a private “festival street” just off the plaza are a few elements that make the overall project stand out.
“But the best amenity is location,” he said.
The district is well positioned, Moylan said, as a link connecting north downtown, the Old Market, the riverfront and the business core. To the east is the CenturyLink Center; to the north is TD Ameritrade Park.
Hotel General Manager Steve Hilton expects the hotel — downtown’s first full-service hotel built since the Hilton Omaha in 2004 — to attain a prestigious four-diamond rating from AAA before long. He has to apply first, and he said he’ll do that after a few months of smoothing out kinks.
Last week, Moylan and officials from the Leo A Daly architecture firm that designed the building led The World-Herald on an inside tour as staff prepared the Marriott for opening day.
Visitors entering from 10th Street are greeted by a high-ceilinged glass lobby with a bar area and full-service restaurant.
“We were careful to create as much visual frontage as possible on the street level to allow people to see and be seen,” said David Hawes, a Daly architect.
With hotels used increasingly as social hubs and places to hang out before and after events, interior designer Michelle Holmes said the design encourages locals and visitors to mingle in a “casual but sophisticated environment.”
She said brick, wood and iron furnishings are intended to bring a touch of the Old Market warehouse style.
A grand staircase leads to a third-floor social area and ballroom lighted by the six brass chandeliers, each with more than 2,000 strands of chain that were attached by hand. It took three days to hang each fixture, said Daly senior project manager Mark Chalkley.
Chalkley pointed out the “winged corners” on the south side of the hotel exterior, offering an interesting architectural feature and a 270-degree view of the downtown Omaha skyline to guests from the inside.
Managed by Marcus Hotels & Resorts, the hotel was built by JE Dunn Construction. The district’s overall development team also includes MCL Construction, Lamp Rynearson and Associates, TACKarchitects, Terracon Consultants and Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture.
Though the Capitol District project is wrapping up later than anticipated — slowed by such things as securing financing and finding a hotelier — Moylan said he viewed the project as a long-term investment that should be done right.
Shamrock was selected in 2011 over two competing bidders, pitching what began as a $176 million package with a 350-room Marriott, 280 apartments and space for offices and shops. At that time, the developer anticipated a finish by the end of 2014.
Last week, Scoular’s Sagheer took a tour of the Marriott, and said he was impressed.
He said he didn’t realize until recently that his would be the first official convention in the new hotel, but he was feeling confident.
“It’s a very beautiful facility,” Sagheer said. “Hopefully all will be fine.”