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DALLAS-Le Meridien will turn over keys Monday at 12:01 a.m. to a 407-room hotel in the Dallas CBD to Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. so it can raise a Westin flag in a quiet end to an 18-month legal battle by owner LaSalle Hotel Properties to change its operator for the Plaza of Americas’ hotel component.

Michael Barnello, COO for Bethesda, MD-based LaSalle Hotel Properties, tells GlobeSt.com that it could be an industry first that a hotel operator has been evicted. “I can’t think of any other hotel manager who’s been evicted. Most would have settled it,” he says of the lengthy fight to lower the Le Meridien flag after a 22-year run in Plaza of the Americas, a 1.3-million-sf mixed-use asset owned by Chicago-based Trizec Properties Inc.

Due to time zone differences, the London-based Le Meridien Hotels & Resorts could not be reached by publication time for comment on the changing of the guard. The hotelier’s public relations spokeswoman has requested a statement from the company.

The White Plains, NY-based Starwood has been reviewing the staff to see who stays and who goes at 650 Pearl St. The shift also ramps up a $3-million renovation to the hotel, rooms and programs for Westin’s “Heavenly Bed and Heavenly Bath” model. Until the familiar Westin sign arrives, a temporary nameplate will be raised to christen the “Westin City Center Dallas.”

“We couldn’t be happier with the fresh start and new look that Westin will bring to the ‘Plaza,’” says Thom Ridnour, Trizec’s regional vice president in Dallas. “The new face that Westin will bring to this hotel will tie in extremely well with the enhancements we are making to our office project.”

Barnello intends to push to recoup holdover rent and costs incurred between February 2002 and this month in the drawn-out affair to oust the hotel operator. The holdover tally alone is “in the millions,” Barnello says.

LaSalle has fought Le Meridien on two fronts to claim its properties after the London-based hotel operator was sold to Japanese banking giant, Nomura International. LaSalle claimed the sale altered its contract, which ran through 2008.

Louisiana law required arbitration, but also ended in a key turning in December 2002. About four months later, LaSalle sold the 497-room Canal Street hotel in New Orleans to CNL Hospitality Corp. of Orlando for $91.5 million. In Dallas, eviction was the recourse.

The Dallas order, unlike Louisiana, doesn’t set forth any settlement of fair market value for the balance of the lease. In fact, Barnello emphasizes, “this is not a settlement. We do not have to pay them. And, they are looking at cutting a check not at getting any money.”

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