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El Paso's Camino Real Hotel's Deteriorating Conditions and Lack of Commitment
for Renovations Prompt Postponement of Convention Business

By Paula Monarez Diaz and Diana Washington Valdez, El Paso Times, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 17, 2011--The League of United Latin American Citizens has postponed its 2013 national convention in El Paso due to the declining conditions of the Camino Real Hotel, El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau officials said Friday.

LULAC officials said El Paso's lack of a large full-service hotel Downtown, similar to those found in other metropolitan areas, forces them to use multiple properties while here, officials said.

"We did our due diligence and checked out the hotels in El Paso, and found that the Camino Real had not been renovated in a long time," said Brent Wilkes, LULAC's executive director in Washington, D.C.

"Initially, our members became concerned because the Texas governor (Rick Perry) said during the campaign that the border was violent. But we were assured that El Paso is a very safe city and that was no longer an issue."

Perry, who is seeking the Republican Party's nomination for president, was quoted by the national media when he said Mexico's drug violence had spilled over to the U.S.

side of the border.

FBI uniform crime statistics showed that U.S. border cities are safe, and in some cases safer than other cities in the country's interior.

Belen Robles, former LULAC national president, said "the condition of Camino Hotel became the issue. LULAC's national board felt it was not in class A condition."

"They want to come to El Paso, but without a guarantee that the hotel would be ready in time for the convention, 2013 may not be the time for this," Robles said.

Bill Blaziek, general manager of the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the hotel needs some structural improvements, such as heating, cooling, carpets, drapes, bedding, flat HDTVs with business portals and elevator repairs.

Blaziek said LULAC's national convention would pump about $900,000 into the local economy.

The Camino Real's general manager, Rene Rubio, was unavailable for comment.

When approached by the CVB earlier this year and again in the week before this announcement, the hotel's management was unwilling to commit in writing to the renovations in time for the convention, CVB officials said.

"Although we will not see the LULAC National Convention return to El Paso in 2013, I am satisfied that we did everything possible to retain this important convention," Blaziek said.

City Manager Joyce Wilson said she will launch an aggressive campaign to attract a full-service convention hotel to Downtown El Paso.

The city and the CVB have been fighting with Grupo Empresarial Angeles -- a Mexico-based company that operates hotels, hospitals, banks and radio stations --to do a multimillion-dollar upgrade of the 357-room, almost 100-year-old hotel. Through its subsidiaries, the company owns Excelsior newspaper in Mexico City.

The historic hotel, which used to be owned by the Westin Hotel chain, is at 101 S. El Paso St., across from the convention center.

Rubio told the El Paso Times in September that the hotel was now operating normally.

"There are no problems," Rubio said then. "I have no issues. They (city officials) do."

About 3,000 to 4,000 guests stay at the hotel each month, so, Rubio said, there will be complaints. But the hotel also has a "lot of happy customers, and they are coming back," he said. "We have to improve every day."

Paula Monarez Diaz maybe reached at pdiaz@elpasotimes.com and Diana Washington Valdez at dvaldez@elpasotimes.com

___

(c)2011 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

Visit the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) at www.elpasotimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services



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