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ORLANDO-Two popular area hotels have closed after owner Orlando Hyatt Hotel Associates told a US Bankruptcy Court judge it can no longer operate the 919-room, 20-year-old Hyatt Orlando near Walt Disney World and the 281-room, 40-year-old Downtown Four Points Sheraton.

The owner has been under Chapter 11 protection from creditors since May 1, 2002. Orlando Hyatt Hotel Associates LP of Rockville, MD filed for protection after contesting a $29.5 million loan debt to Chicago-based LaSalle Bank.

According to court filings, Hyatt Orlando had found a buyer willing to pay $26.5 million for the two properties but could not find financing to fund the hotel’s payroll and other expenses until the sale closed.

Hyatt Orlando has about 430 employees; Four Points Sheraton has about 200. Representatives for the owner couldn’t be reached by Globest.com’s publication deadline.

The shuttered 1,200 rooms come as the metro area’s hospitality industry rallies to improve occupancy. Smith Travel Research of Hendersonville, TN puts the average July occupancy at 72.2%, a 3% increase over the comparable 2002 period. The four-county metro area has an estimated 110,000 hotel and motel rooms.

Of that total, Disney has 25,000 rooms among 19 hotels at its 30,000-acre Lake Buena Vista enclave. That volume makes Disney the largest hotel operator in Central Florida, according to the Orlando Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Hoteliers at mid-priced hotels are watching Disney closely as the theme park operator prepares to open the 2,880-room Pop Century Resort in December, Disney’s largest value-category hotel. Industry consultants tell GlobeSt.com they project the starting room rate of $77 per night at Pop Century Resort will result in several closings of privately operated economic hotels and motels nearby.

“It’s a fact of (hotel development) life,” one hotel broker in nearby Kissimmee tells GlobeSt.com. “Disney, like Wal-Mart, always knocks out the little guy when they start another wave of expansions in the area.”

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