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SAN ANTONIO-In the past 34 years, downtown San Antonio has grown up around the 138-room La Quinta hotel at 1001 E. Commerce St.

The River Walk has blossomed into a national tourist attraction; the River Center Mall has opened; and the San Antonio and the newly expanded San Antonio Convention Center attracts conventions, large and small, from throughout the country. More than 1,000 conventions and meetings brought more than 550,000 visitors to San Antonio in 2001.

La Quinta Corp. has decided it’s time that its first hotel, opened in 1968, grow up, too. Next year, the company, founded in San Antonio and now headquartered in Dallas, will begin transforming the small hotel into a 14-story, 350-room La Quinta Inn and Suites property. It’s designed to be the host hotel for smaller meetings or the home for delegate groups of larger conventions.

“We have always benefited from the convention center (right across the street from the hotel), but by having a block of 350 rooms we’re going to be more of a player,” Alan Tallis, La Quinta’s executive vice president and development chief, tells GlobeSt.com. He says the project will cost more than $20 million.

Tallis says the new hotel is a departure from the traditional low-rise La Quinta. Its room mix will include suites and it will have 9,000 sf of meeting space. Other features include a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, business center, fitness center and continental breakfast facilities.

The downtown hotel will more like La Quinta’s remodeled hotel near San Antonio International Airport, which was expanded to 276 rooms. The company also has a high-rise hotel in New Orleans.

La Quinta, Tallis says, is looking at older properties to determine whether they’re still viable and whether to redevelopment them. Several in the Dallas area are being redeveloped.

For the downtown San Antonio project, La Quinta will incorporate a 1995 addition into the new building. Once that’s finished, probably in mid-2004, the original structure will be demolished.

Tallis says he’s sure Sam Barshop, La Quinta’s founder and now a San Antonio developer, will attend any ceremonies that evolve. At least, Tallis says, he’ll ask Barshop about that when they meet at this weekend’s University of Texas-Oklahoma University football game in Dallas.

The project, under way for about a year, has had a “gazillion moving pieces,” Tallis says. First, there was figuring how to keep the old property open and generating revenue during construction. Then, La Quinta had to get additional space around the property for the expansion–less than 20,000 sf was obtained through long-term leases. And, finally, there was the ongoing work with the city for permits and street closures.

San Antonio officials were helpful, Tallis says, calling the project “in many respects, a public/private cooperative effort.” He says the La Quinta hotel is considered the eastern entrance to downtown San Antonio. “The city was very anxious to do this project because it will enhance the entrance to the city and we got tremendous cooperation from them,” he says.

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