This is the last week for the Plaza as we have known it. The venerable New York landmark closes on April 30 for renovations and for conversion to what the real estate people call mixed use, meaning part hotel, part retail, part condos.

But grand, old, big-city hotels like the Plaza are no strangers to the concept of mixed use. They were always much more than hotels. They are tourist attractions in their own right; movie sets; venues for weddings, anniversaries and other memorable events -- even dreams. Their lobbies and other public spaces are welcoming refuges from the chaos of city life.

The Plaza has been all that and more, and it now appears likely that it will be all that and more when it reopens next year.

The new agreement between the hotels owner, Elad Properties, and hotel employees confirms that key public spaces will be preserved and will continue to be available to the public. The agreement also reduces the number of residences and increases the projected hotel room count to 350.

Perhaps most importantly, the agreement heads off an effort by the New York City Council to start legislating guidelines to hotel owners about converting their properties to mixed use.

We like the way this turned out. Its a reasonable compromise. The best of the Plaza will be preserved, and everybody involved -- including New Yorks other hotels, the citys visitors and its elected officials -- can go on about their business.

Bad publicity

Theres an old show-biz saying that theres no such thing as bad publicity. That may be true for starlets and action heroes, but its a risky proposition for travel companies, whose livelihood depends on the safety and well-being of paying customers -- serious stuff.

The founder of Irelands Ryanair, Michael OLeary, recently gave us an example of publicity that could turn bad by dressing up for the airlines Dublin-Rome inaugural flight as Cardinal OLeary of Mullingar, dispensing liturgical puns such as, You dont need to be infallible to know that only Ryanair guarantees the lowest fares to Rome.

Unlike most corporate executives, OLeary is willing to err on the side of bad taste to get his companys name in the paper. Among airline executives on this side of the pond, only Southwests Herb Kelleher, with his Elvis impersonations, comes close to matching OLearys antics.

The conventional wisdom has it that the airlines cant afford to put the fun back into flying with bold marketing and customer-service initiatives because they are preoccupied with survival and restructuring.

Theres some truth to that, but without going over the top, they might be able to come up with a few cheap tricks to stoke up some good will and good humor.

For all his faults, OLeary is at least reminding us that the airline business may be getting too serious.

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