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AUSTIN-The Hilton Austin Hotel, set to open about a year from now, has booked $55 million in pre-opening sales, according to the company. That puts sales for the hotel’s 800 rooms ahead of schedule.

A promising 6,000 room nights already are booked for January 2004, the very first month of the hotel’s operation, according to Tyler McDonald, the Hilton Austin’s marketing director. Hilton is chasing bookings that previously never considered Austin as a convention destination, as is the case with about three-fourths of the trade that’s been lined up, said Andy Slater, Hilton’s area vice president.

The hotel and the recent opening of the expanded portion of the Austin Convention Center provide the capability to handle larger groups than in the past. Next week, Hilton is set to mark a construction milestone with the official topping out. The hotelier is planning a media blitz to mark the event, sure to be well attended by local officials. In a nod to Austin’s environmental consciousness, the tree will be planted in an Austin park after it has served its ceremonial role.

In addition to guest rooms and suites, the hotel has 60,000 sf of meeting and event space. It is owned by Austin Convention Enterprises Inc. and operated by Hilton Hotels Corp.

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