List story/12 inches/dt1st/LK2nd By WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter Last year, as the August 1998 opening of the 244-room Hyatt Valencia loomed, bookings for its 12,500 square feet of meeting facilities were going faster than anticipated. So in January, officials at the Newhall Land & Farming Co. decided to add a 2,500-square-foot junior ballroom to the hotel. That was very good news to Walter Brindell, general manager of the Hyatt Valencia. “I’ve handled openings of a number of Hyatt hotels, and I can say that meeting room bookings are still ahead of what we expected,” Brindell said. The Hyatt Valencia is L.A. County’s newest major hotel, and is considered a much-needed addition to the Santa Clarita Valley as the area’s business base expands. Its 15,000 square feet of meeting space place it No. 7 on the list of the Valley’s largest meeting facilities. While the Hyatt may be the only new hotel added this year, there has been a great deal of renovation activity at existing meeting facilities. Of the 15 facilities on the list, seven have undergone renovation this year (or are still in the process of renovations). The Hyatt Valencia has been attracting a substantial amount of business from companies and trade organizations in the San Fernando Valley and other Los Angeles areas, said Brindell. He said that the average booking for a meeting room is two days, which in some cases means that the clients are staying overnight. “If people come for a meeting from the San Fernando Valley, they are not so likely to stay overnight, but if they come from farther away they often stay,” Brindell said. Valley hoteliers say their meeting room bookings aren’t affected by the new competition. “I think the Valencia area is a separate market; it hasn’t affected us,” said Michael D. Hirsch, general manager of the Red Lion Hotel Glendale, which is No. 9 on the list. “Our bookings are about the same as they were the past three years.” He said the Red Lion has been experiencing occupancy rates on par with the rest of the Los Angeles area in the mid-70 percent range and a commensurate rate of bookings for its meeting rooms. The facility has 14,228 square feet of meeting space in five rooms, the largest of which is 8,052 square feet. One hotel-industry official said there is intense competition for bookings in the local meeting facilities. In some cases, hotels snatch business from their competitors by hiring people to monitor other hotels’ “reader boards,” the signs in hotel lobbies listing what businesses or parties have events scheduled that day in their meeting rooms. The competing hotel then contacts the companies or groups whose names appear on the reader boards, and attempts to attract their business for future events, said the industry official, who asked not to be identified. The Hilton Burbank Airport & Convention Center, owned by SHC Burbank LLC, is the No. 1 facility on the list. It has 50,000 square feet of facilities in 41 rooms, with the largest room at 16,016 square feet.