Strong demand and hotel renovations drove up the average nightly room rate at San Fernando Valley hotels by 8.7 percent in March, compared with the year-earlier rate, according to PKF Consulting. “A number of hotels damaged in the 1994 earthquake have been refurbished and are coming back on line,” said Melissa Mills, an analyst at the firm’s Los Angeles office. As an example, Mills cited the Radisson Valley Center hotel in Sherman Oaks, which underwent a $12 million upgrade after the quake and reopened in late 1996. S.W. Caplan, a managing partner of the hotel, said the ownership has been raising rates since the Radisson reopened, partly because of the upgrade and partly because of growing demand for rooms by both tourists and business people. Caplan said nightly room rates at the Radisson Valley Center have risen by an average of 8 percent in the past year, but he declined to disclose the hotel’s average room rate, citing competitive reasons. While the price for a Valley hotel room in March was up from a year earlier, the average occupancy rate for Valley hotels slipped by 3.3 percentage points to 76.9 percent in that period. Mills attributed the drop primarily to national press coverage of the El Ni & #324;o storms, rather than the higher room rates. “Early in the year, a lot of people who would have come to Southern California heard about the rains and stayed away,” she said.