As the California economy continues to grow, local meeting planners' calendars keep filling up with bookings for industry trade shows, banquets, sales meetings and seminars.

"Business goes hand-in-hand with the economy," said Jim Petrus, managing director of the Century Plaza Hotel and Tower in Century City. "As the economy in Southern California strengthens, we find corporate America has a greater ability to conduct meetings."

The Century Plaza is the top-ranked property on the List of L.A.'s largest hotel meeting facilities, based on total amount of meeting space.

The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites moved up on The List from the No. 4 position in 1996 to No. 2 this year.

Rounding out the top five are the Hotel Queen Mary, the Regal Biltmore Hotel and the Los Angeles Airport Hilton & Towers. The List's rankings are not much different from previous years because there has been hardly any hotel construction in the county since 1990. The same 25 hotels have occupied The List since 1990, with just a few facilities adding more meeting space.

An increase of 10,000 square feet and the addition of two meeting rooms accounted for the Westin Bonaventure's move up in the rankings. The hotel now has 90,000 square feet of meeting rooms, just 10,000 square feet less than the Century Plaza Hotel.

"The new space came from a restaurant that had been used for meetings in the past," said Sherry Bigler, sales and marketing director for the Westin.

The new meeting space has the feel and look of a board room, according to Bigler.

"One trend that we are noticing is an increase in the size of meetings that are being booked with a shorter lead time," Bigler said. "1997 is turning out to be a busier year than we anticipated, with lots of computer-related shows and big pharmaceutical shows well on into next year."

Petrus said the Century Plaza has made some changes within the last year to make its booking procedures and the meetings themselves more convenient and innovative.

"We are finding that people today are looking for convenience in the booking process, so we have done a couple of things to assist in that matter," he said.

A new system called Westin One Call allows a meeting planner to work with just one Westin employee from start to finish.

Dennis Clark, general manager of the Los Angeles Airport Hilton & Towers, said that hotel opted not to renew a lease for 17,000 square feet of meeting space in an office building next to the hotel. "We decided that, despite the increasing demand from all segments within the hotel, we had no need for that space," Clark said.

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