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WHITE PLAINS, NY-Le Meridien Hotels & Resorts is being taken out of its misery with a $1.2-billion purchase by Manhattan-based Lehman Bros. and locally based Starwood Hotels. Dow Jones is reporting this morning that the sale should be completed within the next few days.

According to the report, the firm has racked up some one billion pounds of debt and was “forced to return control of 11 hotels to Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC after defaulting on rental payments.”

The sale–which will deliver some 135 luxury hotels in 56 countries–comes at a time when some weak light at last may begin to shine on the long-beleaguered lodging industry. In GlobeSt.com’s current UpClose, Will Marks of JMP Securities projected that across the board, “In 2004, we are expecting to see, on average, about 4% RevPAR growth. This is really not any different from the guidance provided by the public companies, which are saying that RevPAR should grow in the 3%-to-5% range next year.” As a result of this uptick, an increase in sales transactions should follow. “Transaction levels across all property types should pick up a little as the economy improves,” Marks continued. “But I don’t think ’04 will see the huge turnaround in the hotel industry that we would like to see. But it will be the beginning of the recovery.

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