Doug Manchester adds to portfolio with 1,035-room Fairmont Austin hotel


As chairman of the Manchester Financial Group, founded 45 years ago, Douglas “Papa Doug” Manchester shows no signs of slowing down.

His passion for his work has led to new horizons in the realm of real estate with an innovative hotel venture taking shape in Austin, Texas.

Nov. 3, 2014 marked a new addition to MFG’s portfolio of resort and convention hotels as through its subsidiary, Manchester Texas Financial Group, ground was broken to begin the construction of a new prestigious landmark, Fairmont Austin.

It will be the largest in the luxury hotel brand’s portfolio and will be Austin’s convention center anchor hotel, rising 50 stories with 1,035 rooms.

Hunt Construction Group was awarded the $242 million construction contract, and the Austin office of Gensler, a global design firm, is the architect. The hotel, which will be the downtown area’s second tallest structure, will have direct access to the convention center via an aerial promenade, said Manchester.

Formerly an empty lot, the hotel is sited by Waller Creek, which runs from the University of Texas into Lady Bird Lake, said Manchester. Bike trails and running tracks are within easy reach. “It’s an exciting area in Austin,” he said.

For Manchester, the venture is close to home: His son, Douglas W. Manchester, president of Manchester Texas Financial Group, is overseeing all aspects of the development and this is the first major collaboration between father and son.

A graduate of Wake Forest University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in business, he moved to the area a few years ago as his wife, Lauren, has close ties to Austin.

“When Douglas found the empty lot, we decided that we would try to emulate what we did here in San Diego with our experience in developing a convention center hotel,” Manchester explained.

That vacant lot will be transformed into a sustainable 1.3 million-square-foot building incorporating an energy-efficient exterior and building materials.

Manchester’s experience in development projects is legendary: Locally, he is considered father of the San Diego Convention Center, which was originally planned to be located at the foot of Broadway. It stalled when a $225 million bond issue went down to defeat under then-San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson.

With plans and funding already approved for his Intercontinental Hotel — now San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina — Manchester presented a plan to the Unified Port District to move his entire project to the northwest and free up property to the southeast that he then deeded to the port.

“And so the convention center could be built and financed by the revenues generated from the hotels that we were going to build. In exchange for giving up the property to the southeast, we would get the property to the northwest, where we constructed the 1,700-room Manchester Grand Hyatt,” Manchester said.

Consequently, it became “one of the most successful convention centers in the entire United States,” he said. “Where else in the world would you find a destination resort, downtown resort, airport resort, waterfront resort and convention center, all five elements wrapped into one?”

Past development projects include The Grand Del Mar, voted No. 1 in the nation by Trip Advisor in both resort and hotel categories. With its five-star rating for resort, spa and restaurant, it is one of only a few 15 star-rated hotels in the world. Previous projects include the Manchester Executive Center, Manchester Financial Building, and the Whitetail Lodge and Golf Club on Payette Lake in McCall, Idaho.

Manchester was also the catalyst for the biotech business cluster at Torrey Pines, and funded buildings on the campuses of the University of San Diego, San Diego State University, Wake Forest University, Bishop’s School in La Jolla, and more.

For the 10-year-old boy who sold newspapers to those traveling on the Coronado Ferry — and who as a man is now publisher of U-T San Diego — the Fairmont Austin project represents another chapter in his biography, one that in 2013 found him proclaimed Nice Guy of the Year by his peers for his philanthropic gifts totaling more than $40 million.

Douglas W. Manchester commented that he couldn’t ask for a better mentor, business partner and best friend in his father, who has shared with him his invaluable lessons in real estate development.

“Fairmont Austin will remain the first cornerstone development I’ve been honored to be a part of with my father, and I look forward to many more success stories shared together in the years ahead,” he said.

With its completion expected to take 30 months, Fairmont Austin is slated to officially open on June 3, 2017, “my 75th birthday,” said Manchester, who added modestly, “We think it will do very well.”