DENVER -- Luxury is no stranger to the mountain resorts west of here. But the Mile High City itself has long been void of top-tier hotels.

That will change this fall when the Ritz-Carlton, Denver opens downtown, becoming the city's first five-star hotel.

The hotel, scheduled to open in November, is a rare breed for Denver, but it's also a rare event for Ritz-Carlton, which has been focusing on global expansion.

Last week, Ritz-Carlton opened its first Texas property, in Dallas, the company's first new domestic property in nearly four years.

Four other Ritz-Carlton hotels scheduled to open this year are in international cities: Tokyo, Moscow, Beijing and Dublin. Another U.S. property, a Ritz-Carlton in White Plains, N.Y., is scheduled to open next year.

In Denver, the Ritz-Carlton will raise the bar for upscale hotels in the city that will host the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Four Seasons and Starwood have also announced plans to build hotels in Denver.

Richard Scharf, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the city eagerly anticipated "the upcoming additions of marquee brands such as Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and W" because of its impact on Denver's image.

Scharf called the rapid development of the upscale hotel segment in Denver a sign that the city had "moved into the top tier of American cities." 

Michael King, general manager of the Denver, Ritz-Carlton, said the company, which has hotels at the Beaver Creek and Aspen ski resorts, had wanted a presence in Denver for a long time.

"The timing for us to be here couldn't be better, as there is so much demand and excitement about the city," King said. "The city is now a key meetings destination."

The Ritz-Carlton, Denver is near the city's financial district; the mile-long, pedestrian 16th Street Mall; and the Lower Downtown Historic District, a shopping, dining and nightclub area known as LoDo to Denver residents.

The hotel said it would have 202 of the largest guest rooms in the city and 47 suites. It will have meetings rooms, a 6,200-square-foot ballroom and Elway's Colorado Steakhouse, named after John Elway, the former Denver Broncos quarterback and Pro Football Hall of Famer. The restaurant will be the second Elway's Colorado Steakhouse in the city.

In Texas, meanwhile, the Ritz-Carlton, Dallas is housed in a 218-room, 21-story building on McKinney Avenue, within walking distance of the American Airlines Center and near a newly announced stop for the McKinney Avenue Trolley, which will provide free service to the uptown area's shopping and dining.

The hotel has a luxury ballroom, spa and a restaurant by Dean Fearing, an expert on haute Southwest cuisine.

In addition to its new hotels, Ritz-Carlton recently announced a push to invest more than $1 billion to upgrade properties around the world, including a $110 million renovation of the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua in Maui.

A three-year capital improvement plan for all hotels will include in-room enhancements such as flat-screen televisions, bedding with higher thread counts, gourmet coffeemakers and wireless Internet access.

To contact reporter Jeri Clausing, send e-mail to [email protected].

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