In 1991, Marriott opened the 37-story, 504-room Financial Center Marriott two blocks from the World Trade Center. It was the only competition for the nearby Vista International hotel, which was nestled between the massive 110-story Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
Two years later, in February 1993, Islamic terrorists, attempting to bring down the Twin Towers, planted a bomb in the parking garage of Vista International. The explosion killed six people, injured 1,000 others, and caused major damage to the hotel. The power of the blast was felt at the nearby Financial Center Marriott.
Managers and associates of the Marriott rushed to help their Vista competitors, assigning space for a Vista command post and a place to hold press briefings. The Financial Center Marriott also provided complimentary housing for four days to 120 Port Authority officials and continuously delivered food to approximately 700 first responders and cleanup crews. The World Trade Center subsequently ran an ad in the New York Times proclaiming: “A million thanks, Marriott, for opening your doors to us.”
At that point, the Port Authority owned the Vista. After the bombing, it was renovated and reopened in 1994. Host Marriott bought it for $141.5 million in 1995 and renamed it the New York Marriott World Trade Center. Business mogul and Latter-day Saint Bill Marriott was thrilled with the acquisition and had no qualms about another terrorist attack. Since that location had been bombed before, security in the hotel was extensive.
No one ever imagined that a threat would come from above.
Bill drove to his Bethesda, Maryland, office early on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. It was a brilliant, blue-sky morning on the East Coast. He was feeling rested after two weeks at Lake Winnipesaukee and was booked on a noon flight for New York City, where he would attend a World Trade & Tourism Council executive committee meeting. A few minutes before 9 a.m., someone interrupted a meeting in his office to tell him that a plane had just struck one of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.
“I ran to the boardroom and turned on the big TV,” he recalled.
“The first images that came up showed billowing smoke and a gaping, fiery hole in one of the towers. My mind went straight to our guests and associates. Did the hotel team know what was going on? Were they already evacuating? Had anybody been hurt? The hotel’s associates were well trained for emergencies, but this emergency was like nothing we’d ever seen before.
“We tried frantically to get through to the hotel staff by telephone from the boardroom, to no avail. As the minutes went by, more people came into the boardroom where, like millions of other viewers, we were transfixed by those surreal images. Then we saw the second plane hit the other tower. Total silence in the room. We were all devastated. We kept trying to get through to our people. We had no idea how bad things were for them, but knew it must be pretty terrible. More than a few of us in that boardroom could not hold back the tears.”
Hijacked by terrorists and flying at 494 miles per hour, the American Airlines Flight 11 passenger jet had crashed into the north tower at 8:46 a.m. with a fiery explosion, sending debris crashing down to the streets. Part of the plane’s landing gear crashed through the roof of the 22-story Marriott below, landing in an office next to the pool and shaking the whole building.