January 18, 2006

Hilton Hotels Corp. announced this week it will launch the Waldorf=Astoria Collection through two distinct initiatives -- new builds in select international gateway cities and co-branding of existing luxury properties. The first three hotels to become part of the collection on Feb. 1 are the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel and Spa on Maui in Hawaii, the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix, and La Quinta Resort and Club in La Quinta, Calif. All three properties are owned by CNL Resorts, which last week announced its acquisition of the Ritz-Carlton Grand Lakes, Orlando, and its sister property, the JW Marriott Grand Lakes. Speaking at a press conference to announce the new collection, Matt Hart, president and COO of Hilton, said no timeline on growth or locations had been established. "We intend to be extremely selective with the Waldorf name. We are just getting started," he said. "We only want to be in select gateway cities, and we are only interested in exclusive properties." However, Hart added, the possibility exists for certain Hilton and Concord properties to be co-branded under the Waldorf=Astoria Collection, but he declined to give specific examples.

After financing for a planned 1,100-room, $60 million headquarters hotel in Los Angeles fell through in November, home-building giant KB Home has stepped in to back the project. The property will include 70,000 square feet of function space and a 200-room luxury hotel-within-a-hotel. Scheduled to open in 2009, the as-yet-unnamed hotel will be part of L.A. Live, a mixed-use entertainment district that will feature a 7,100-seat performance venue and the Grammy Museum, a 32,000-square-foot space dedicated to the history of modern music.

The Cinergy Center in Cincinnati hosted its first major show last weekend since undergoing a $160 million expansion and renovation that will be complete in June. The Cincinnati Travel, Sports & Boat Show, a 10-day show with more than 500 exhibitors and approximately 75,000 attendees, opened on Jan. 13, with construction on the center now 80 percent complete. The center's west meeting rooms, junior ballroom and new 40,000-square-foot ballroom have yet to be finished. When the Cinergy Center officially opens on June 30, it will offer 200,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space and 100,000 square feet of meeting space.

The regulatory process is under way for a second phase of development in Boston's Seaport District that would add a 300-room hotel adjacent to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Developer John Drew has submitted environmental-review forms for the project, which also would build a grocery store and a department store on a 2.8-acre parcel diagonally across from the center. The permit process could take a year to complete; if plans are approved, the development, dubbed Waterside Crossing, likely would not open until 2009.

American Express Business Travel announced yesterday a new electronic auction tool for negotiating corporate meeting venues. The web-based application was developed for Amex by StarCite. The e-auction capability brings corporations and hoteliers together in a transparent Internet arena, providing greater visibility and streamlining the venue bid process. The tool will be made available this month to American Express' U.S.-based clients; a global release will follow later in the year.

The Palm Springs (Calif.) Convention Center held its grand opening ceremony yesterday. The newly expanded center features 261,000 square feet of space, including 120,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, 19 breakout rooms and a 20,000-square-foot ballroom.