SAN JUAN -- As the 580,000-square-foot Puerto Rico Convention Center rises above the San Juan skyline in preparation for its fall 2005 opening, hotels throughout Puerto Rico are upgrading and expanding, as well.

Puerto Rico's room inventory, which totals 12,494 rooms in properties that range from two rooms at the Casa Vista del Mar guesthouse in Rincon to the 750-room Wyndham El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, will grow by more than 3,600 in the next few years, according to the Puerto Rico Tourism Co.

Hotelier Rick Newman, president of Flagship Services Corp., named Helen Bayne and Jacqueline Conte as general managers of the soon-to-open Holiday Inn San Juan in the Isla Verde section of San Juan and Costa Benita on the island of Culebra, respectively.

The Holiday Inn San Juan -- the former Carib Inn -- is slated to open next month. Flagship paid $16 million for the property last year and spent more than $12 million on renovations.

The 225-room property will have "a more contemporary look" than the typical Holiday Inn, according to Newman, whose firm will operate and manage the full-service property.

Design touches include a glass-enclosed, 3,700-square-foot lobby, an outdoor garden for receptions and nine-and-a-half-foot ceilings in guest rooms.

Rates will be moderately priced in an effort to attract first-time visitors to Puerto Rico.

The $22 million Costa Benita resort on Culebra, 20 miles east of the main island, within sight of the island of Vieques, is slated to open in mid-July. The hillside resort's 165 studio and one-bedroom villas overlook Ensenada Honda, Culebra's deep-water bay.

Other hotel developments in San Juan:

• The 174-room historic Park Plaza Normandie Hotel is slated for a $4 million renovation that will continue the nautical motif and Art Deco design of the 1940s-era hotel, which is shaped like an ocean liner. Guest rooms will be redone with high-speed Internet access, new soft goods and workstation desks.

• The Condado Lagoon Villas, adjoining the Caribe Hilton, are slated for a December opening and will add 168 rooms to the Hilton's inventory. The second phase of the project will have 56 rooms, for a total of 910 rooms, making the resort the largest in Puerto Rico.

• The first phase of the reconstruction of the Condado Vanderbilt and La Concha Hotel is under way. La Concha, which will have 248 rooms, had 228, and the Vanderbilt, which will have 93 rooms, had 240 when they both closed in the late 1990s.

The second phase, scheduled to start next year, will add 200 condo-hotel units to La Concha and 216 units to the Vanderbilt. Hugh Andrews, president of International Hospitality Enterprises and the developer of both hotels, said the project represents an investment of $224 million.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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