In the audience: Peter Nickles, who helped broker the whole deal. (Lydia DePillis)

In proof positive that long-running development projects make for nearly as long groundbreaking speeches, today’s ceremony to mark the official start of construction on the $520 million Marriott Marquis hotel downtown was a doozy, with speakers thanking everyone from former mayor Marion Barry (seated proudly in the front row) to Washington Convention and Sports Authority development committee chairman Jim Abdo‘s wife (“probably on a run somewhere”). After all this project has been through, the day seemed almost miraculous; Quadrangle Development’s Bob Gladstone called it a “reunion of the faithful.” One of the oldest people on the dais, Bill Marriott himself, has presided over the construction of 16 hotels in D.C., but none as grand as this.

Beyond those conveying congratulations, the room was packed with people who are counting on something from the massive new development: Downtown tourist-oriented businesses hoping for a new source of customers, Shaw community activists looking to get neighborhood residents employed, and city development people just glad to get the project off their plate.

(And speaking of plates, if the spread afterwards is anything like hotel guests have to look forward to when the building finishes up in 2014, this reporter will be stopping by to crash receptions on a regular basis).

Mmmmm lunch.