BRAND NEW February saw the grand opening of Covington, Ky.'s 204,000-square-foot Northern Kentucky Convention Center, with its 47,000-square-foot exhibition hall, divisible into two spaces; a 23,000-square-foot ballroom, and ten meeting rooms. Just a bridge walk or ride away over the Ohio River is Cincinnati, and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is an easy 12-mile drive.

*Billing itself as the first environmentally smart hotel in the continental U.S., the 193-room Sheraton Rittenhouse Square Hotel opened recently in Phil-adelphia. The hotel's atrium lobby contains a 40-foot-high forest of live bamboo trees, chosen because they take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen at a rate 35 percent higher than any other plant. In the guest rooms, night tables are made from recycled shipping pallets; bureaus are finished with a nontoxic lacquer; and the walls are covered with bamboo (considered a sustainable resource). Filtration units supply fresh air to rooms and remove mold, pollen, and bacteria. Lighting is energy-efficient. The hotel has 4,500 square feet of meeting space.

*The 800-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel has opened in the heart of South Beach. The first new luxury hotel built on Miami Beach in more than 30 years, the property has an oceanfront swimming pool, a fitness center, a children's camp, and 85,000 square feet of meeting space. One hundred of the resort's rooms are in the historic St. Moritz Hotel, which has been restored to its Art Deco splendor. The new 700-room tower has three concierge floors.

*A $10 million, 45,000-square-foot convention center will be built in Slidell, La., 30 minutes from New Orleans. The East St. Tammany Events Center is projected for completion by 2001. Some 1,200 hotel rooms are available nearby.

*Wyndham Hotels & Resorts will open a 362-room hotel in the heart of Boston's financial district after a $40 million redevelopment of the city's historic Batterymarch Building. The Wyndham Boston Hotel, to open in the second quarter, will be owned by Patriot American Hospitality and managed by Wyndham International. The hotel will offer 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

RENOVATIONS AND EXPANSIONS The San Diego Convention Center is enhancing its landmark Sails Pavilion, with a glass enclosure for the 90,000-square-foot, open-air area and a new industry-standard trade show floor. The project will be done by spring 2000 and is happening at the same time as the center's ongoing expansion, opening in September 2001. The expanded center will offer more than 600,000 square feet of space.

* The Eden Roc Resort & Spa in Miami Beach has been purchased by Destination Hotels & Resorts, which will spend $22 million to renovate the 349-room property. The hotel has 38,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The 770-room Sheraton Birmingham Hotel has added a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, the largest in Alabama. The property is connected by skywalk to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex and the Medical Forum Conference Center.

International Conference Resorts completed a $13.5 million expansion of the Carefree Conference Resort in Carefree, Ariz., adding a 10,000-square-foot meeting room, a dining room, a business center; and 66 guest rooms, bringing the property to 249 units.

The Ritz,London Gets Ritzier The elegant Ritz Hotel, nestled in the heart of London, has undergone a total refurbishment costing $17 million, restoring the building's original Louis XVI decor while updating its technology to bring it into the 21st century.

British brothers Frederick and David Barclay bought the Piccadilly landmark three and a half years ago from London-based Cunard Hotels. Staff members say they spared no expense in restoring the hotel to its original 1906 appearance, emphasizing quality over cost. For instance, a Paris shop spent three months creating the heavy floor-to-ceiling curtains in the restaurant and court room.

The 131 guest rooms and 14 suites have been equipped with dual ISDN telephone lines, dual voltage modem sockets, and voice mail. Three meeting rooms each seat 20, 30, or 40 people and the largest, the Marie Antoinette Suite, can accommodate up to 90 people for a reception. In addition, a business center features computer and communications equipment and full secretarial service.

For more information, visit the Ritz Web page at