Sheraton Suites reaps benefits of Mexico City's expansion

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MEXICO CITY -- "Mexico City is a huge market," said Philippe Cassis, area director for Mexico and general manager of that city's Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel & Towers. Therefore, in October 1996, Sheraton opened a second property there, Sheraton Suites, situated in the new financial and commercial district of Santa Fe.

Six years ago, much of this area was, quite literally, the city dump. Then, the federal government and a local construction company laid out plans for a minicity of towering, architecturally interesting office and apartment buildings. In a real success story, international corporations by the dozens relocated here, including IBM, General Electric, Pepsi, Kraft, Roche and Proctor & Gamble. An exposition center is under construction.

According to the public relations manager for the Santa Fe property, many questioned projected occupancy figures. Now, several other chains are looking for sites. The nine-story structure houses 194 suites, classified as standard, executive and master, plus a presidential suite. My standard suite, larger than the average Manhattan one-bedroom apartment, featured a living room; dining area seating four; kitchenette; bathroom with access from both bedroom and hallway; two dual-line telephones plus a cell phone; iron and ironing board; a pants press; closet safe; two televisions, and a digital thermostat indicating outdoor as well as indoor temperature.

The 16 master suites can connect to second bedrooms with full baths; these smaller rooms are never rented separately. Master suites also boast large dining areas and Jacuzzis.

Active guests can check out the fitness center's exercise room, whirlpool, steam baths and jogging track. A fee of $7.50 per day covers everything except massage. Since membership is open to area business people, clients can firm up deals along with muscles.

During my recent visit, most of the 10 meeting and banquet rooms were in use or being set up. There is also a complete business center and the fashionable Sante Fe shopping center, reputedly Latin America's largest, is five minutes by car.

The Cardon restaurant, overlooking a garden, features Mexican and international cuisine. Within a five-minute walk, guests will find a variety of additional dining options.

Stays of four or five months are not unusual, as clients find the property a comfortable and convenient base while conducting business in the area or while looking for a house. Rates begin at $245 per room. Since Santa Fe is situated 19 miles west of city center, it is best for clients with business in the area or for families.

Sheraton's second Mexico City property, the Maria Isabel Hotel & Towers, stands next to the American Embassy on Paseo de la Reforma, the main thoroughfare of the Zona Rosa business and shopping district. Shortly after the Maria Isabel's 1962 inauguration, it hosted an ASTA convention and an IBM world congress. When Sheraton acquired the property in 1969, a tower was added and total room count rose from 502 to 747, including 72 suites. Towers guests enjoy private check-in and use of an attractive lounge overlooking Angel Monument.

The lounge offers complimentary buffet breakfast, beverages throughout the day and a cocktail hour with tasty hors d'oeuvres. It further serves as a quiet and comfortable spot to relax or conduct business.

Following a tradition established by grand European hotels, Towers guests are attended by personal butlers who can assist with business and social planning as well as more usual responsibilities. Service is a hallmark of the Maria Isabel. Housekeeping quickly responded to my request for an iron and ironing board, and as I awaited a friend outside the Verandah restaurant, I was offered coffee.

The Pavillion restaurant features dinner shows Tuesday through Sunday evenings. Patricia Quintana, author of several cookbooks, traveled the country's villages and haciendas collecting old recipes and authentic ingredients. She then worked with Sheraton to develop special menus. Diners might start with a hibiscus margarita.

Silvia Lozano, a director of the National Folkloric Ballet, organized a one-hour program introducing the dances, music and costumes of Mexico's states. Guests also are entertained by a canary that tells fortunes, plays basketball, bathes a baby and rings a miniature dinner bell.

Tinted windows have given the property a new facade; the Verandah restaurant's terrace is being redesigned; the Cardinale restaurant is receiving a "more Italian" look; meeting rooms are being refurbished, and lobby upgrading includes a higher ceiling, additional space and the use of more wood to create a warmer ambience.

Reflecting on the Maria Isabel's continued popularity for more than 35 years, Cassis described its staff as a "professional team who knows why we're here and gives the best we can. We realize there's competition out there, so we continually reinforce our strengths and work on any weaknesses."

Rates begin at $200 per room, suites at $266.

With the Santa Fe property and the recent acquisition of the 239-room Ambassador Hotel in Monterrey, Sheraton now has eight hotels in the country. As Cassis put it, "This proves our faith and commitment to the future of Mexico."

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