December 14, 2005

Chicago's City Council passed an ordinance last week that will ban smoking in virtually all of the city's public areas, including restaurants, bars, taxis, train platforms, sports stadiums and convention facilities, effective Jan. 16. Restaurants and bars have until July 1, 2008, to comply, though smoking could continue indefinitely at some establishments if the owners can prove their buildings are equipped with air purifiers that render exposure to smoke inside "equivalent to such exposure in the ambient outdoor air." Designated smoking rooms in hotels still will be allowed, as long as their numbers do not exceed one-quarter of the total number of rooms at a property.   

A new domestic air carrier, Virgin America, has secured $177.3 million in financing and is now applying for certification from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration. The startup, which plans to begin service with 33 Airbus 320s in 2006, is majority-owned by American investors, with a minority stake held by the Virgin group of companies headed by British magnate Richard Branson. The airline's base of operations will be San Francisco International Airport.

The management contract for the 1,610-room Anatole Hotel in Dallas has been awarded to Hilton. A name change for the former Wyndham property will take place in mid-January, followed by a two-year, $30 million renovation. About $3.5 million in refurbishments were finished last week.

Opening on schedule Tuesday is the Hyatt Regency Denver, the new 1,100-room headquarters hotel built adjacent to the recently expanded Colorado Convention Center. The property offers 60,600 square feet of meeting space, including the 30,000-square-foot Centennial Ballroom (the largest in the state) and the 14,000-square-foot Capital Ballroom.

Reopening Tuesday is the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Ariz. An iconic property from the 1950s, when celebrity couples such as Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, and Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis graced the grounds, the 194-room property has undergone an $80 million makeover that returned it to a retro-'50s look. The resort offers a spa, more than 10,000 square feet of meeting space and 15,000 square feet of outdoor function space. The hotel's restaurant will be Trader Vic's, a reimagining of the original dining spot on the site.

Groundbreaking took place last week on an $875 million rehabilitation of Terminal 5 at New York City's JFK Airport. The historic TWA Flight Center will be resurrected as a 635,000-square-foot JetBlue Airways terminal with 26 gates, allowing the carrier, JFK's most popular, to double its flights out of the facility, from the current 127 per day to 250. Terminal 5 will reopen in early 2009; in the meantime, a temporary terminal with seven gates is under construction to handle JetBlue's burgeoning capacity.

The long-anticipated Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, opens tomorrow. The 365-room Caribbean resort is a study in co-branding, featuring two restaurants by Eric Ripert, a Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, a La Prairie spa, a nine-hole Greg Norman golf course and a children's program designed by Jean-Michel Cousteau. The resort will open in stages, with the golf course, the final component, coming online by February. The grand opening will occur the weekend of Jan. 7, featuring performances by Tony Bennett and Sheryl Crow.

Detailed plans have been revealed for a new football stadium to be shared by the New York Giants and New York Jets of the NFL   both of which currently play at Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J. The new 700,000-square-foot stadium, to be built on a different site at the complex from the existing shared facility, will open in time for the 2010-'11 season with 81,000 seats, approximately 200 skyboxes, a football hall of fame, and meeting and banquet space. Other development deals for the complex will bring in several hotels, a new rail station and a retail and entertainment complex called Xanadu. Final plans for the stadium will be submitted to the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority in 2006, with construction beginning in 2007.