The 2,914-room Paris-Las Vegas Casino Resort, Hilton's largest construction project ever, is slated to open next to Bally's on the Las Vegas strip in late 1999. The Parisian-themed property will include a 50-story replica of the Eiffel Tower. Meeting space includes the 85,200-square-foot Paris Ballroom, the 17,385-square-foot Champagne Ballroom, and the 7,685-square-foot Versailles Ballroom.

Accor is building its second Sofitel hotel in Chicago, to open in 2000. The 400-room Hotel Sofitel will be downtown, one block west of North Michigan. Plans call for 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

New Brands Park Plaza International Hotels, Inns and Resorts has acquired The Warwick Hotel in Houston, to be renamed the Warwick Park Plaza Hotel. The historic 308-room hotel has 23,000 square feet of meeting space.

Renaissance is rebranding two Hong Kong hotels: The 862-room New World Harbour View in Wanchai will become the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel and the 543-room New World Hotel in Kowloon will become the New World Renaissance Hotel.

The historic Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, S.C., has been reflagged the Westin Francis Marion. Built in 1924, the 226-room hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and was restored in 1996. Additional renovations were completed in 1997, adding a lobby bar and business center. The hotel offers 14,000 square feet of meeting space, including two ballrooms.

Renovations and Expansions The Drake Hotel in Chicago is spending $40 million to refurbish the entire property. So far, the lobby, Palm Court, Executive Lounge, French Room, and hotel entrance have been redone to preserve the hotel's 1920s flair. All of the Drake's suites, executive rooms, and deluxe rooms have been renovated; by 2000, all 535 guest rooms will have been reappointed.

Value Investors Inc. has purchased the Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, N.Y., and plans a major renovation to turn it into a luxury property centered around the Monster Golf Course and the International Golf Course. The 1,200-room hotel is 90 minutes from New York City. The resort's largest meeting space, the Imperial Room, accommodates 2,400 for a reception. Total meeting space tops 170,000 square feet.

Two new additions at Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, Mich., include a completely renovated 100,000-square-foot health club and the Jim McLean Golf School. Grand Traverse has 660 accommodations, 49,000 square feet of dedicated meeting space, and 36 holes of championship golf.

International Beat A $30 million redevelopment is under way to transform the Park Plaza Hotel Toronto into The Grand Bay Hotel, Toronto. The 348-room landmark property will be the city's first new luxury hotel in more than 10 years, and its only property with a full-service spa, the 10,000-square-foot Golden Door CitySpa. The hotel also will feature 16,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including 10 meeting rooms and two ballrooms. The property is part of Patriot American/Wyndham International's new luxury hotel division, Grand Bay Hotels and Resorts, a collection that includes the former Carefree Resorts portfolio and existing Grand Bay hotels. All grand Bay properties will feature a Golden Door spa. *

Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park Park opened to the public at 7 a.m. on April 22 (by design, Earth Day). At 7:04 a.m., the park was sold out for the day.

Expecting no dip in enthusiasm for months afterward, Disney asked its employees not to go through the park until the first week of December. Of course, they'd had plenty of opportunity to preview the park in the weeks before its official opening. And press, meeting planners, and other invited guests made their way through the park's "lands" on April 21, after a grand opening ceremony befitting the scope of the Animal Kingdom project.

"We had to come up with something novel and distinct," Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner told the preview crowd as a cast of Disney performers struck poses on the stage behind him. "What kept topping the list was the world of animals. Nature is the greatest storyteller of all."

Back in 1995, Disney gave a new story line to 500 acres of Florida swamp and orange grove, planting some four million trees, plants, shrubs, vines, and grasses and populating this new ecosystem with approximately 1,000 animals. The plant and animal life creates four distinct lands within the park--among them, Africa, where visitors board Land Rover-like buses for safaris; and DinoLand U.S.A., site of an "archaeological dig" and the not-to-be-missed thrill ride Countdown to Extinction. (A fifth land, Asia, opens early next year.)

Beginning in January 1999, groups will be able to use the new park's various lands for theme parties and special events, according to George Aguel, vice president, resort/park sales, services, and event productions for Walt Disney World. "The environment is incredible. You don't even know you're in Florida," he says. "We have so many groups that come back and are always looking for something new. [Animal Kingdom] simply adds to their agenda and their program. You have to come back here a lot to exhaust the options."

The 1,300-room Animal Kingdom Lodge, with balconies overlooking roaming zebra, giraffe, and antelope, breaks ground next year with a targeted opening of 2001. While not a property designed for business meetings, Aguel notes, it would be suited to a pure incentive group.