What Marriott meeting didn't discuss

Shareholders bring up nearly everything but the move that wasn't


May 01, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- They commented on mergers and acquisitions, pondered the merits of building new hotels in Prague, questioned the wisdom of overseas expansion, made statements about cigarette smoking and even discussed corporate policies regarding free dinners.

But what Marriott International Inc.'s stockholders didn't talk about yesterday during the Bethesda-based hotel giant's annual meeting was the company's decision to keep its headquarters in Montgomery County, rather than move it to Northern Virginia.

Shareholders also didn't bring up the roughly $40 million that Marriott will reap from Montgomery and the state, money that company executives and economic development officials claim "leveled the playing field" between the states but that critics charge was little more than a corporate bribe to retain a big employer and a Fortune 500 company's headquarters.

Questions about whether Marriott should have told Maryland officials of its decision to remain in Montgomery County a full month before it did so -- while continuing to push Maryland officials for tax breaks -- didn't come up, either. Instead, Marriott's stockholders were content to discuss the tried-and-true corporate business that annual shareholder gatherings are famous for: Would Marriott's $1 billion purchase of the Renaissance Hotel Group increase earnings this year? Is the company's chairman concerned that Marriott's worldwide expansion might be hampered by events and economic instability overseas? (Yes, and no, respectively).

That the question of Marriott's headquarters move didn't come up surprised company Chairman and Chief Executive J. W. Marriott Jr. as much as anyone.

"Yeah, I was a little surprised," said Marriott, whom shareholders returned to the company's board of directors for a three-year term, after the meeting in the sprawling Grand Ballroom of the J. W. Marriott Hotel here. "But it's not a personal issue for them."

"We didn't try to go to Virginia and up the ante," Marriott said of the negotiations that resulted in tens of millions of dollars in incentives. "I think [the negotiations] were fair and evenly handled."

Marriott said the company will decide by July whether to relocate from its six-story offices to a new 1 million-square-foot skyscraper, a campus-like headquarters in a Montgomery County business park or renovate and expand its existing space.

Pub Date: 5/01/99

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