Times Square center offers tourists one-stop shopping

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NEW YORK -- A number of new hotels, attractions, Broadway shows and visitor services will greet tourists in the Big Apple next year.

Among the new attractions is the Times Square Visitors Center, a 6,000-square-foot facility within the restored Embassy Theatre at 1560 Broadway between 46th and 47th streets.

Dubbed the city's first one-stop-shopping visitor center, it features ATMs for quick cash, tickets to popular tourist attractions and sightseeing tours, MetroCards for subway and bus rides and a Broadway ticket center for full-price tickets. Other features include free access to the Internet on six computers, a shop selling official New York memorabilia, hometown newspapers from around the world and a video history of Times Square.

Although the center's amenities are what drives business, the restored building that surrounds it is an attraction in itself.

The Embassy Theatre was built in 1925 as an opulent movie house and was the last vintage Times Square theater to present first-run movies. When it opened, it made history as the first and only movie theater in the U.S. managed and staffed solely by women.

The visitors center is just across from the TKTS booth, which sells half-price tickets to Broadway shows.

Speaking of Broadway, 17 new productions, including seven musicals, four plays and six special productions, were scheduled to open during the first half of the 1998-99 season.

Opening Nov. 23 is the revival of "Peter Pan," the classic that tells the story of the little boy determined to never grow up. Starring two-time Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby, the musical will be performed at the Marquis Theater at 211 W. 45th St.

Also new is "Parade," a musical based on the true story of Leo Frank, a factory manager in Atlanta who was accused of the murder of a 13-year-old girl in 1913. The play opens Dec. 17 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at 150 W. 65th St.

On the hotel front, Brooklyn enters 1999 with its first major new build, the New York Marriott Brooklyn, in the Brooklyn Renaissance Plaza. Offering 376 rooms, including 10 suites and a concierge level with 36 luxury units, the hotel is adjacent to the Metrotech Center and close to Brooklyn's courthouses and municipal buildings. Aimed at business travelers, the hotel offers the latest in-room, high-tech gadgets as well as 19 meeting rooms and a grand ballroom with room for 2,900. For reservations, call (888) 436-3759.

For visitors who want to be Irish for a week, the new Fitzpatrick Grand Central at 141 E. 44th St. offers European ambience and an authentic Irish pub. Located in a remodeled office building across from Grand Central Station, the hotel offers 155 rooms with canopied beds and modern conveniences for the business traveler and a cozy lobby with two fireplaces. This hotel is a sister property to the hotel company's other inn, the Fitzpatrick Manhattan on Lexington Avenue at 57th Street. For reservations, call (800) 367-7701.

The Bentley is new on the Upper East Side at 500 E. 62nd St. Converted from the former headquarters of the National Urban League, the hotel offers 229 contemporary rooms with great views of the East River. For reservations, call (212) 459-1000.

Even with the added room inventory, however, finding a room in Manhattan during the peak season can be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. One way to find an empty bed is to use a central reservation service like the one offered by the New York Convention & Visitors Bureau. Called the Peak Season Hotel Hotline, the toll-free number, (800) 846-7666, is designed to help find a room in every category and price range through Jan. 2. The service, which is also on the CVBs Web site at www.nycvisit.com, pays agents a 5% commission. Among the tips the CVB offers for securing a room during peak season are book early, be flexible and try hotels in all of the city's five boroughs.

Other hotel reservations services include Hotel Con-x-ions at (800) 522-9991 and Central Reservation Service at (800) 548-3311.

For sightseeing, clients should pick up a CityPass booklet that offers savings on admission to the city's six most-visited cultural and entertainment attractions. The ticket booklets are available in advance at www.citypass.net or at any of the participating attractions and visitor information centers. Tickets are good for nine days from the first date of use.

CityPass is also available to local residents who wish to reacquaint themselves with the city's attractions or treat visiting friends and relatives to the sites. Participating attractions are the Empire State Building Observatory, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Observation Deck at the World Trade Center, American Museum of Natural History and Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum. Admission to all six is $26.75 for adults, $18 for seniors and $21 for children age 13 to 18.

For information, call any CityPass attraction or (707) 256-0490.

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