Given the limited financing available for construction of full-service hotels, some companies are taking what may be a less costly route and converting existing buildings, such as office buildings and department stores, into hotels.

In New Orleans, the D.H. Holmes department store was converted into the Chateau Sonesta Hotel in early 1995. Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, Inc. of San Francisco recently completed a conversion of a former downtown Portland department store into the 221-room Fifth Avenue Suites Hotel and is now converting a downtown Seattle office building into the 189-room Hotel Monaco Seattle, slated to open next summer. Hilton Hotels is planning to convert the Marina Towers, an office building in Chicago, into a 375-room franchise property, opening in September 1997. In urban areas, the lack of available land combined with the prohibitive costs of new construction make it more difficult to justify investment, says Robert Mandelbaum, director of research, PKF Consulting.

Do these examples signify a new direction in the hotel market? "There is no strong trend in conversions," contends Chuck Ross, vice president, Smith Travel Research, Inc. "You may see isolated cases where the specific circumstances are supportive, but it is very expensive to convert an office building into a hotel."

The conversions probably won't put much of a dent in occupancies or room rates. "The addition of the Marina Towers rooms won't drastically affect anybody," says Dave Scypinski, director of meeting and convention marketing, Hilton Hotels. "In softer seasons, the conversions might have some effect, but in peak-no."

Meeting Industry Loses Two of its Leaders

The meetings industry lost two leaders this fall with the sudden deaths of Doris Sklar, who headed the New York City-based Sklar Worldwide Meeting Management Ltd., and William Deal, president and CEO of the International Sign Association, Alexandria, VA.

Sklar, 60, died in an automobile crash on October 18 on Long Island, NY. She worked for 36 years for the General Electric Management Development Institute in Ossining, NY, 24 of those years in meeting planning, until February when she stepped out on her own to head an independent meeting planning company.

"Doris was well known and highly respected both in the U.S. and abroad as a skilled, professional meeting planner and warm human being," says Virginia Lofft, vice president/publishing director of the Adams/Laux publications. "We will all miss her." Doris was working with Adams/Laux on the program for the first Beyond Borders conference to take place in New York City in March 1997. She was a member of the board of directors of the PCMA New York Chapter.

Among her numerous awards: the International Meeting Planner of the Year (Meeting Professionals International); Pacesetter Award (Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International); and a Hall of Fame Award for distinguished achievement and exceptional professionalism (MPI Greater NY Chapter).

William Deal, 51, died November 11 at the Mount Vernon Hospital following a head injury. His career in association management began after a stint working for Senator Sam Erwin. He went on to become president of the National Association of Temporary Staffing Service and then the International Bottled Water Association before heading the International Sign Association in 1994. He was active on a number of committees for the American Society of Association Executives, and chairman of the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives. He is survived by his wife, Debbie, and their six-year-old daughter, Meghan. In lieu of gifts or flowers, the family has established an education trust fund for his daughter. Contributions can be sent to William Deal Memorial Education Trust, c/o International Sign Association, Suite 205, Alexandria, VA 22314.