Corrections or additions?
This article by David McDonough was prepared for the April 10,
2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Marriott Makes Its Mark in the Capital City
If we build it, will they come?
The City of Trenton, the Marriott Corporation, the Trenton Convention
and Visitors Bureau, the Trenton Downtown Association, and the
of Warren, Lafayette and Front streets having been saying yes for
years. Now the time of reckoning is at hand. As of April 2, Trenton
was officially no longer the only state capital in the country without
a hotel. After 16 years of throwing their suitcases under a bed
on Route 1, visitors to the city now have the option of a full-scale
facility within blocks of the State House. The Lafayette Yard Marriott
Conference Hotel has opened its doors.
So far, at least, the hotel seems to have exceeded expectations. Dwane
Martin, the general manager at the Lafayette Yard Marriott, has been
a general manager before, and he has opened four hotels in his career.
This is his first opening as a general manager and the experience
has been more gratifying than he anticipated. "The most surprising
thing is the impact this hotel has had on the community," says
Martin. "Originally I underestimated that. There has been so much
support and so much interest."
"I’m very excited," gushes Debbie Ayers, owner of Blossom
& Gifts Flower Shop on South Warren Street. "There’s a whole new
influx of people, new faces. Just the hotel employees alone puts more
people on the downtown streets. The hotel itself has built a
with the merchants, and the foot traffic — well, when you stay
in a city, you want to get out of the hotel, walk around. We are very
The formal opening will be an all day gala on Thursday, April 25,
starting at 10 a.m., but the hotel staff won’t be sitting around the
lobby until then. Several groups have already reserved space for
functions, and though an initial squabble with a labor union, which
brought out pickets on both sides, caused a couple of cancellations,
the others are going through.
"We’ve been taking reservations since the middle of January,"
says John Yake (rhymes with cake), the hotel’s director of sales and
marketing. "We have people inquiring about weddings and bar
This is the first Marriott Conference hotel in the state of New
It’s a great opportunity for us to have this brand in this market,
so centrally located."
The hotel is a four-story, somewhat unprepossessing building as you
approach it at the corner of Lafayette and South Warren streets, two
blocks from Route 29. The facade is a muted brown brick and stucco
motif, chosen to match the Trenton War Memorial. It is no accident
that the hotel stands on the former parking lot next to the city’s
recently refurbished concert hall. The site was selected for its
to tie in to the War Memorial’s historic value, and the history of
the general area. Most important, it lies only a few easy blocks from
the State House.
If the outside fails to dazzle, the interior is another story. Joint
Venture Architects, comprised of architects from Ford Farewell Mills
and Gatsch, and Johnson Jones, both of Princeton, have created an
impressive space. The large, agreeably muted-toned lobby is a very
welcoming atmosphere, formal but comfortable. There’s a separate
for visitors attending an event, who can head right for their
without milling about, confusing those needing to check in at the
front desk. A nearby lounge contains oversize chairs, a leather
and a large screen television. Beyond that is a good size bar,
for a casual drink or an informal press conference.
The hotel is anticipating a favorable reaction to the
Archives, the ground floor restaurant, accessible to the public, with
outdoor dining facilities. "The name was chosen because the
of the state of New Jersey are kept in Trenton," explains Yake.
"We had special showcases built, and we will have a constantly
changing display of state documents and artifacts, so that guests
will get a feel for why Trenton was chosen as the state capital."
The restaurant seats 175 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is the
first restaurant in the city to feature an open, or
kitchen. "With the current extreme interest in cooking, with the
Food Network and chef Emeril and all that, food preparation has become
almost a show," says Yake. "Guests can sit and watch their
food being cooked. We’ll also have food and wine tastings, and chef
The restaurant may also be used to educate guests on the large
of cuisine available in the city, from Chambersburg’s Italian fare
to soul food and other eclectic dining experiences. Says Yake: "We
welcome more and more restaurants because it enhances Trenton as a
destination. We have information at the front desk on where to go
and where to dine. There is a department in the hotel called `At Your
Service,’ and at anytime a guest can pick up the phone and they will
get room service, or help making a reservation at another restaurant,
or information on what is available locally in retail shops."
The hotel has 197 deluxe guest rooms: 119 doubles, 74 kings and 4
suites. Regular rates are $129, with weekend specials at $89,
two for breakfast, and group rates go lower than that. Here is where
the guest first becomes aware of how seriously the Marriott takes
itself as a business traveler’s hotel. Each accommodation features
the patented "Room That Works" amenities, including a work
station with computer plug-in built into a desktop lamp, two-line
telephones, voice mail and data ports, and an ergonomic desk chair.
With in-room coffee and tea service, it’s not inconceivable that the
business guest, waiting for a call or a meeting to be set-up, could
do his or her whole day’s work without leaving the room.
But it is the conference facilities that really set the Lafayette
Yard hotel apart, and give the visitor the sense that this venture
really could work in Trenton. There is a 6,015 square foot main
and four small banquet rooms, seven conference rooms and an executive
boardroom that seats 20. The rooms have built-in sound systems,
tucked into the ceiling, drop down screens, sound-proof wall surfaces,
ergonomic chairs, and wide conference tables. The effect is
virtually any kind of meeting and video or teleconferencing that needs
to be done can be accomplished in this state-of-the-art facility.
The hotel also boasts a 24-a-hour a day business center with six
workstations, high speed internet access, color printers, scanner,
fax machine, and photo copier, all accessible with the hotel’s
"If you are planning a meeting and you wake up at 3 in the morning
to make copies, you can do so," says Yake. "On weekends and
after 5, these services are not available in Trenton."
Other projects in the city, such as the Sovereign Bank Arena and
Park, have the county’s fingerprints all over it. The hotel, and the
new parking garage next door, are the city’s babies. City bonds, loans
from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and Capital Cities
Redevelopment Corporation, and funds from the state went to finance
The city of Trenton formed the non-profit Lafayette Yard Community
Development Corporation (LYCDC) to oversee the project. LYCDC has
come in for some criticism for its less than open-air policy regarding
its activities, and some $1.3 million in cost overruns for the hotel,
added to the original $54.3 million price tag.
City Councilman John Cipriano, the Council’s representative on LYCDC,
scoffs that "these were not cost overruns, they were enhancements,
things that were needed. And it’s not that we had to take more money
out of our pockets — the moneys were available, we just had to
make them come forth. (The overrun costs will come from state
tax credits, refinancing of the bonds, and some grant moneys). When
you have a cost total of $60 million, what’s a $1.3 million overrun?
Most of that money, we are going to get back. If the hotel gets 60
percent capacity, and we bring in $100 million in revenue, we get
a six percent sales tax that comes back to the city."
The next step was to secure the blessings of the state’s Historic
Sites Council, and the Department of Environmental Protection. Before
the War Memorial was built, the site had housed a man-made canal.
Eleven millstones were found on the property during hotel
nine of which are on display at the Barracks. (In the 1930s, as a
part of a WPA project, the canal had been filled in and a magnificent
pedestrian site, Stacy Park, had been built. Parts of the park began
to disappear after World War II, giving way to the parking lot; the
remnants of Stacy Park can still be found on the west side of Route
29, on the banks of the Delaware.)
The area remains a flood plain, however. To that end, an elaborate
two-part foundation, preventing ground water from leaching and getting
into the water system, had to be installed. The DEP’s main concern
was the Assunpink Creek, which flows through the property, and floods
regularly. Since the site had had so many uses over the years,
regarding contaminates had to be addressed.
It is important to remember that other hotels have come
and gone in the capital city. During Trenton’s heyday as a
center, the Stacy-Trent Hotel, built in 1921 in the epic and grand
manner of luxury hotels in pre-Depression days, stood on West State
Street as a monument to the thriving nature of the capital city. By
the 1960s, with the decline of Trenton’s industry and the steady
of the middle-class to the suburbs, the hotel fell on hard times.
It was demolished in 1967 and replaced by a state building. The
also on West State, which opened in 1929, was a derelict by the time
of its demise in 1984.
In the post-war era, Trenton entered a time when everything old was
demolished to make way for the growing need for government facilities
all over the downtown. Elegant mansions like the Washington Roebling
house, the West State Street home of the man who built the Brooklyn
Bridge, were torn down and replaced with character-less office
and parking lots, populated by state workers and cars, all of which
disappeared from the city promptly at 4 o’clock, leaving the downtown
area shuttered and deserted.
The last attempt at a full-scale hotel was the Capitol Plaza, a
former Holiday Inn on State Street, which opened in 1981 and closed
in 1986. That hotel was limited to rooms for rent; it had no
facility. That was part of its downfall, but its failure still has
fingers pointing; why, the nay-sayers ask, is there any reason to
think that this new hotel will succeed where others didn’t?
The answer may lie, curiously enough, in a superhighway. Not the roads
leading into Trenton itself, certainly not in the new Route 29 tunnel,
which, in its rule-changing maelstrom, may eventually be open only
to bicyclists over 50 and neutered German shepherds. It is the
superhighway that may help restore Trenton’s glory. Modern technology
and the Internet have changed the way the world does business, and
Trenton state government, for so long an intimate affair where deals
were made in corners by men who had known each other all their lives,
has given way to a sensibility that the business of government is
no longer regional. Businesses, consultants, and lobbyists pour into
Trenton from all over the country. The trouble is, like all the state
workers, they are gone from town come twilight. Until now, perhaps.
For those who stay the hosts will include people like Dwane Martin
and John Yake, both of whom are excited by the prospect of being part
of a turnaround for the city.
Martin was the seventh of 12 children in Fort Worth, Texas, where
his father was a construction worker. After serving in the Army for
six years, he majored in accounting at Monterey Peninsula Community
College and Golden Gate University. While still in school he started
working in the hotel industry, first in housekeeping, then in
and in restaurant management.
As the controller, he opened a new property in Esmeralda, California.
Marriott bought that chain, and he worked at the Marriott in San Diego
and as general manager of the La Guardia Marriott. He and his wife
— they have children ages 9 and 13 — have bought a home in
Pennington. "We are looking forward to being a member of the
For Yake, the assignment to central New Jersey is a homecoming.
Marriott was kind of special for me. My parents are both from Trenton,
and they still live in West Windsor," says Yake. "I remember
the city in the 1960s when we shopped at Sears. It is exciting to
be part of the revitalization."
Yake’s father was a residential builder, and his mother worked in
the school system. He always knew he wanted to go into the hotel
and he majored in hotel and restaurant management at Fairleigh
Class of 1982. He was director of restaurants when the Princeton
opened in 1988 and moved to catering director.
"That gave me a terrific grasp on the market here," says Yake.
From 1996 to 2001 he worked on Wall Street, first at the Marriott
World Trade Center and then at the Marriott Financial Center. Perhaps
providentially, he left New York in May, 2001, to return to Trenton
to open the Lafayette Yard Marriott. He lives in Ewing with his wife
and two school-age daughters.
Another person with a deep interest in the success of the new hotel
is Sally Lane, head of the Trenton Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"For years, we have had to tell travel agents that there is no
place for people to stay in Trenton," says Lane, whose roots in
the Trenton area are deep — her great-grandfather, James Kerney,
was editor and publisher of the Trenton Times. Lane grew up in
graduated from Barnard College, and spent nearly 20 years as an editor
and columnist for the two Trenton dailies before single-handedly
the Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1991.
"Business travelers do not want to have a rental car and travel
up and down Route 1 with clients or business associates that they
may be meeting for the first time," Lane continues. "They
want to get from the airport to their destination and be able to walk
into the state complex. Every feasibility study shows what the market
is. It is from Sunday through Thursday. Our hope for the weekend
is that we can grow a regional tourist base."
It is all part of the larger picture, of course, a dream
that started with Waterfront Park and moved ahead with the Sovereign
Bank Arena, and possibly, the film industry complex off of Route 129
(still very much in the rumor phase), and the Foundry restaurant and
sports bar across from the Arena. There is still a great deal of work
to be done. Streets around the hotel are being improved; there still
many other streets that need work. It is still somewhat confusing
to gain access to the hotel via Route 29.
"There were 23 movie theaters in the city in the 1940s and 1950s;
there are none today," says John Cipriano. "We’ve got to beef
up the downtown with bowling alleys, bookstores, whatever it takes.
We need better cab services for visitors. The cab people had better
start policing themselves and improving the quality of their vehicles.
We need established rates and standards. And New Jersey Transit needs
to be more responsible with its schedules for buses."
Rightfully, Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer claimed the honor of being
the first guest to register at the new hotel. The mayor has recently
secured a $33 million federal grant to rebuild the city’s rundown
Amtrak station. "It looks like a Roy Rogers that has a train
in it," say the mayor. "We want a major renovation, to give
people a really good feeling when they enter Trenton.
"Perception is reality. It used to be the perception was,
Don’t ever go there.’ Now, people come in for games, and we have a
first-class hotel and conference center that will provide local jobs
(an estimated 160 jobs, according to some figures, approximately 80
percent going to local residents), that will improve their quality
of life. That, in turn, will make Trenton a tourist destination. When
you spend the night in the city, you spend more money in the city,
and you create more jobs."
The question must be posed: what if the hotel just doesn’t work?
answers: "It would be very hard for it not to be successful,
the minimum amount of occupancy needed is 66 percent. If it’s not
successful, the city guaranteed the bonds — we’d be on the hook.
But we’ve already got $3 million worth of bookings. And frankly, it’s
time we stop sending our money up Route 1."
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.