It was anything but a "soft" opening for the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina's second tower Friday, as the 683-room landmark on San Diego Bay welcomed the Holiday Bowl-bound University of Wyoming football team, coaches and staff on its inaugural day.
The Wyoming delegation, which will be joined Monday by Wyoming Gov. Michael Sullivan, will have the new $90-million tower to itself for its seven-day stay, after which the hotel will be thrown open to the public. The team has the run of the tower despite the fact that it is occupying only 90 rooms.
With 1,364 rooms in its two towers, the San Diego Marriott is now the largest hotel in the city and fourth largest in the entire Marriott chain, ranking behind only the New York, Atlanta and Orlando Marriotts. Marriott became the 3-year-old hotel's operator on Oct. 8 after hotel developer Doug Manchester forced out the previous operator, Hotel Inter-Continental.
Champions of the Western Athletic Conference with a 10-2 regular season record, the Wyoming Cowboys will play the University of Iowa Hawkeyes in the Holiday Bowl game Wednesday at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. The Iowa team is staying at the La Jolla Marriott during its stay here.
To generate hotel traffic during what is traditionally a slow season for hoteliers, Marriott offered the Wyoming team roughly a 50% discount on rooms that normally go for between $140 and $180 per night, said Harold Quiesser, the San Diego Marriott's director of marketing.
To sweeten the deal, Marriott also donated the use of the new tower's two luxurious, 3,800-square-foot suites to Gov. Sullivan and Wyoming Coach Paul Roach. The suites normally fetch $2,800 a night.
To help the Cowboys' coaches prepare the team for the game, Marriott is also donating the use of the hotel addition's plush conference rooms and office space, an arrangement much to the liking of Wyoming Assistant Athletic Director Joe Dowler. Having all operations under one roof enables the coaching staff to better coordinate game strategy, he said.
"A lot of times in these bowl games, there's too much playing and not enough practicing," Dowler said.
San Diego hotels that host Holiday Bowl teams have always been required to financially support the game in several ways, Quiesser said. For example, host hotels must buy a minimum of 100 tickets to the game and provide complimentary food and beverages to certain functions, he said. The gestures are considered a small price to pay for the good marketing and public relations that accrue to being a host hotel.
But Marriott is probably more aggressive than most hotels in pursuing athletic-team business. Quiesser, for example, flew to El Paso in November to meet with Wyoming officials after Wyoming clinched the Holiday Bowl berth by beating University of Texas at El Paso. Formerly an assistant football coach at the University of New Mexico, Quiesser also used connections he had made on the Wyoming coaching staff.
"He knows the needs of an athletic team," Dowler said of Quiesser, adding that the San Diego Marriott is also the headquarters hotel this week for Cowboy Joe, the University of Wyoming booster club.
Before joining the San Diego Marriott, Quiesser was marketing director of the Anaheim Marriott, which last year was the official headquarters hotel for the National Football League for Super Bowl XXI. The San Diego Marriott will be the National Football League's headquarters hotel for Super Bowl XXII to be played here Jan. 31.
The sleek hotel, with its curving, reflecting glass facade, this week has been working out the typical pre-opening bugs, including squeaky escalators and electric sockets that don't work. But Quiesser said Friday that there were no big, unforeseen last-minute problems.
Even if there were, a few Wyoming players interviewed in the lobby as they arrived Christmas afternoon from Laramie indicated that they wouldn't be too hard on hotel management. "From what I've seen, this hotel is first class. That's all Coach (Paul) Roach gives us--first class," Wyoming middle linebacker Galand Thaxton said Friday. "I'm not going to worry about the bad things."
Nor were Wyoming players disposed to complain about San Diego's unseasonably cold weather Friday. "It's still a relief from Laramie. It's been between 20 and 40 degrees below zero this week," said center Jon Cogdill.
The Wyoming players and coaches were at the vanguard of what promises to be a flood of Wyoming fans into San Diego for the game this week, which will be Wyoming's first appearance in the Holiday Bowl. The university sold all 10,000 bowl-game tickets allotted to it.
Another large group of Wyoming officials, including university President Terry Roark and university Board of Trustees President Brian Miracle, will arrive Monday.
In addition to Gov. Sullivan, both U.S. senators from Wyoming, Alan Simpson and Malcolm Wallop, are scheduled to attend the game. More than 300 rooms in the Marriott's adjacent 681-room tower are booked to Wyoming fans.