July 26, 2006

New York State’s Public Authorities Control Board, composed of Governor George E. Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, approved the plan to expand the Javits Center in New York City. This is the final approval needed before groundbreaking, and the one that ultimately defeated the Jets stadium proposal in 2005. The square footage of exhibition space will increase from 760,000 to 1.1 million, and the square footage of meeting space from 30,000 to 210,000. Groundbreaking is hoped for this fall, and the expansion is expected to open in 2010. NYC & Company, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, already has secured promises from nine conventions, representing 310,000 room nights, to use the expanded center.

Three hotels will comprise a 1,000-room project planned for downtown Austin, Texas, two blocks from the Austin Convention Center. White Lodging Services will build a 650-room Marriott, a 200-room Renaissance Hotel and a 150-room Springhill Suites by Marriott. Scheduled to open in 2009, the $185 million project will offer 50,000 square feet of meeting space.

At last week's annual convention of the Destination Marketing Association International, Michael Gehrisch, president and CEO of the organization, announced an accreditation program for destination marketing organizations beginning in 2007, with the goal of accrediting 40 DMOs within the first year. The accreditation process would be open to both DMAI members and nonmembers, with a separate accreditation track for government-owned DMOs. This year's convention, held in Austin, Texas, had more than 1,200 attendees -- the group's best-ever attendance.

The Renaissance Schaumburg (Ill.) Hotel & Convention Center celebrated its grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week. The $224 million property has 500 guest rooms and a convention center with 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 28,000-square-foot ballroom and 20,000 square feet of additional meeting space.

Ground was broken last week on two major hotel projects in California: the 230-room InterContinental Sacramento, due to open in mid-2008, which will have 15,000 square feet of meeting space, a 12,000-square-foot spa, and a $20 million fitness center; and the 173-room Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe, a $300 million, mountainside ski and spa resort expected to open in 2009 with 11,000 square feet of meeting space.

The San Diego Lodging Industry Association and the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association want to add a 2 percent surcharge to hotel bills and use the revenue to promote the city. Proponents of the measure presented the concept to a city council subcommittee last week. If the full council endorses the plan this fall and a majority of lodging properties vote to levy the self-imposed charge, by next spring the total amount of taxes and fees on hotel bills would rise to 12.5 percent, still below the national average for comparable markets, said Salvatore Giametta, vice president of community relations for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. Giametta said the CVB did not have an official position on this specific proposal, but acknowledged some fund-raising action is necessary because the city's fiscal crisis will likely lead to "serious cuts to our budgets" for fiscal year 2008.

Gaylord Entertainment Company signed a letter of intent last week to build a convention center complex with 1,500 to 2,000 hotel rooms and 400,000 square feet of meeting space in Chula Vista, Calif., south of San Diego. The Chula Vista City Council and the San Diego Unified Port District were scheduled to take action on the letter yesterday afternoon and evening, and city officials were cautiously optimistic that both parties would sign the agreement. The project would open in 2010.

The U.S. lodging industry's occupancy for the first half of 2006 improved 2.1 percent to 63.5 percent versus the same period in 2005, according to Smith Travel Research. The average room rate rose 6.8 percent to $96.56 and RevPAR increased 9 percent to $61.30. The industry's room supply increased by 0.4 percent in the first half of the year, while demand (counted in room nights sold) grew 2.4 percent. Room revenue grew 9.4 percent in the first six months of the year to $49 billion. "We anticipate continued RevPAR growth in the second half," said Mark Lomanno, president of STR, "but probably somewhat slower than the 9 percent increase we experienced in the first half."