September 03, 2008

Hot Topics

On Monday, Hurricane Gustav made landfall 70 miles southwest of New Orleans in a sparsely populated, rural section of Louisiana, sparing the evacuated city a widely feared direct hit. According to a statement released Monday night by the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, "No significant damage to the hospitality infrastructure of New Orleans has been reported at this time, and it is not anticipated that the storm will have any impact on the fall convention and meetings calendar." The city's hotels, currently closed, will reopen when Mayor Ray Nagin lifts the evacuation order. Both the New Orleans Morial Convention Center and the Louisiana Superdome were under the protection of the National Guard and the state police during the hurricane's approach. As of yesterday, the airport still had not reopened.

Marriott International has pulled out of the project to build a 1,929-room hotel in the Ballpark Village neighborhood in downtown San Diego, citing the current condition of capital markets. "It was a very difficult decision for us, as we have a longstanding commitment to San Diego," said a spokesperson for the company.

More than 200 German customs police raided roughly 70 exhibit booths at IFA, a major consumer electronics show held over the weekend in Berlin, and seized electronics from companies suspected of patent violations. A similar raid disrupted CeBIT, a computer show in Hanover, Germany, earlier this year. The German customs office said in a statement that the seizures were made in accordance with a German court ruling and investigations are ongoing.

Walt Disney World Co. has sold 298 acres to Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to build a 445-room Four Seasons hotel and golf course in the northeast quadrant of the theme park's property. Construction is expected to begin next year, and the property will be completed in 2012.

Following a two-year restoration, Interstate Hotels & Resorts has opened the 273-room Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya, the first Hilton in Russia. The 1954 property has a heated indoor pool and sauna, 7,000 square feet of meeting space (nearly half of which comprises a ballroom), fitness and business centers, and the Russian-cuisine Janus Restaurant. All guest rooms offer Wi-Fi access and have 32-inch flat-screen televisions.

The director-general of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, has called for Edinburgh, Scotland, to halt several developments, including one called Caltongate that will include a new five-star hotel and conference center, until an investigation into the city's World Heritage status is completed. In an interview with The Scotsman newspaper, Matsuura said there was mounting concern within UNESCO about the impact major developments would have on the capital city and its skyline. A report, expected to be released next spring, will recommend whether Edinburgh should be placed on UNESCO's official "at risk" list of endangered sites. The Caltongate development, in the Old Town, calls for the demolition of two historical buildings to make way for the hotel and conference center, 200 homes and a public square.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is restructuring its senior leadership team. Matthew E. Avril, currently co-president of Starwood Vacation Ownership, has been named president of Starwood's Hotel Group, replacing Matt Ouimet, who is leaving the company. In his new role, Avril will oversee hotel operations worldwide for Starwood's nine brands, comprising approximately 900 properties in more than 100 countries. In addition, he also will be in charge of Starwood's global sales organization. Sergio Rivera, the other co-president of the Vacation Ownership arm, now will head that division. Both executives will continue to report to Frits van Paasschen, Starwood's president and CEO.

On Aug. 27, the 400-room Raleigh (N.C.) Marriott City Center held its grand opening. The hotel has an Italian bar and restaurant, and 15,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 9,000-square-foot ballroom. The hotel is attached to the brand-new Raleigh Convention Center, which celebrates its grand opening this weekend. The facility has 500,000 square feet of space, which includes 19 meeting rooms, a 32,000-square-foot ballroom and a 150,000-square-foot exhibit hall.

According to the mayor's office, a planned $250 million expansion of the San Jose McEnery Convention Center might be in jeopardy if California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent proposal to cut $228 million from the state's redevelopment agencies is made a reality. The proposal calls for city budget cuts of $10 million a year for three years. Earlier this month, the San Jose City Council approved the creation of a tax district comprising San Jose hotels, whose representatives soon will vote on a hotel tax increase. Hoteliers are considering raising the tax from 10 to 14 percent, a move that might allow funds to be directed toward the expansion.


Meeting Professionals International has relaunched its website ( Aside from a new look, new features include drop-down menus for easier navigation, a Browse by Topics list to view content by subject, customized home-page articles so users can choose which topics to see first and the ability to search the Global Marketplace from each page.

Conference Centers

Now open is the 297-room AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The property offers 40,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 300-seat amphitheater, a 10,000-square-foot ballroom and three 90-seat tiered classrooms. The center is a member of the International Association of Conference Centers.


A new casino opened last week at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., part of a $1 billion expansion that eventually will include a 920-room hotel, 23,000 square feet of meeting space, and 115,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. Most of those elements will open in 2010. Currently Mohegan Sun has 1,200 rooms and 100,000 square feet of meeting space.

The 307-room Eastside Cannery Casino & Hotel opened Aug. 28 east of Las Vegas in the Boulder Highway gaming area. The $250 million venue has a 16-story tower with views of the mountains and the Strip, as well as 65,000 square feet of gaming space and 20,000 square feet of meeting space. Two on-site restaurants already are open; a restaurant-lounge, One Six, will open on the building?s top floor later this fall.

The Riviera Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip has completed the first phase of a $20 million renovation. More than half of the property?s 2,075 rooms have been remodeled and now feature new fixtures, furniture, and amenities such as plasma televisions and wireless Internet access. The remainder of the hotel?s guest rooms should be refurbished by November. Also ongoing are renovations to the hotel?s 160,000 square feet of meeting and convention space.


Just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., the 162-suite Residence Inn National Harbor, Md., opened this week. The smoke-free, extended-stay property features 1,400 square feet of meeting space.

The CEO of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Giovanni Angelini, has stepped down, citing medical reasons. Taking over his responsibilities is Madhu Rao, a 20-year veteran of the chain who was appointed CFO in 1997 and will continue to hold that position.

The Colorado Springs (Colo.) City Council has approved a redesigned plan to revitalize the southwest downtown area of the city. The project still will include a 225-room hotel with an unspecified amount of meeting space, possibly to be built by John Q. Hammons and opening by the end of 2011. Also part of the plan is an arts district envisioned as a place where artists would live over gallery space. Officials at the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority expect to know within the next two weeks whether Hammons will commit to the revamped design.

The Dallas City Council has authorized a memo of understanding with Matthews Holdings Southwest to develop the city?s convention center hotel. The council also authorized the establishment of the Dallas Convention Center Hotel Development Corp. to monitor the project?s funding and construction. The 1,000-room property will be built next to the Dallas Convention Center and will offer at least 100,000 square feet of meeting space of its own.

Room renovations finish up this weekend at the 189-room Driskill hotel in Austin, Texas. Six of the rooms were remodeled to conform to ADA standards, increasing the property's total to nine ADA rooms. All rooms received new mattresses and linens, as well as new workstations and plasma TVs.

The 283-room Embassy Suites Murfreesboro Hotel & Conference Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., will have its soft opening Sept. 10 and will start accepting reservations Oct. 1. The hotel is connected to an 80,000-square-foot conference center and will feature a pool, a 250-seat restaurant, a fitness center and a 24-hour business center.

The BOK Center, a 19,000-seat entertainment venue in downtown Tulsa, Okla., opened Saturday. The facility, managed by SMG, is across the street from the Tulsa Convention Center, where ground will be broken later this month on a new 30,000-square-foot ballroom and 10 new meeting rooms.