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Awaiting King Verdict : Potential for Trouble Stirs Visitor Anxiety

April 09, 1993|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fearing an eruption of violence at the end of the Rodney King trial, anxious out-of-town visitors have been flooding tourist bureau phone lines, and several business groups have postponed or relocated meetings outside of Los Angeles.

Tourist and civic officials say they do not expect any major problems. But just the potential for violence and intense media coverage of the King trial has undermined efforts to bolster Los Angeles' struggling tourism industry, which is still hurting from last year's riots and economic weakness.

"Any outbreak of violence would be further damaging to our reputation," said economist Jack Kyser at the Economic Development Corp. The intense media coverage reinforces people's perceptions that "L.A. is not a good place to visit or do business."

However, there have been no widespread reports yet of tourists canceling or rescheduling their visits to the Los Angeles area. But anxiety has risen as the King civil rights trial draws to a close. The jury is expected to begin deliberating late today or later this weekend.

Since the defense in the King trial rested its case, telephone calls to the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau are up 50% from normal as tourists seek information about the potential for unrest.

Callers are told that all tourist attractions and hotels are open and that an outbreak of violence is not a certainty, but police are better prepared than last year to deal with any unrest--should it occur--bureau spokesman Gary Sherwin said.

"We talk more about Los Angeles Police Chief Willie Williams than we do about Disneyland," Sherwin said.

Hoteliers in downtown and central Los Angeles say business is slow primarily because of the Easter and Passover holidays. Still, the fear of unrest led several groups to postpone their meetings in Los Angeles scheduled over the next few days, a Hilton Hotels spokeswoman said.

"A lot of guests are calling to make sure that we have contingency plans in place," said the spokeswoman, Kendra Walker.

The St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, which is scheduled to play the Dodgers early next week, has decided to stay at a hotel near the airport instead of the Sheraton Grande in downtown Los Angeles. "In case disturbances arise, they would find it easier to leave," General Manager Tom Curley said.

At the Hyatt Regency in downtown Los Angeles, general manager Donald Henderson says airline crews have been moved to the Los Angeles airport area while another group moved to Irvine. For downtown workers who might be marooned if rioting breaks out, the hotel will offer an $89-a-night "good neighbor" rate--a nearly 50% discount off weekday prices.

"We have tried to explain to everybody that we will not see a repeat of what happened last year," Henderson said. Nonetheless, the Hyatt has hired extra security guards, and managers are prepared to move into the 485-room hotel with their families to keep the facility up and running.

"If we get the crazies, we will be prepared," Henderson said.

Many hotels in suburban Los Angeles expect an increase in their overnight and meeting business at the expense of downtown properties, as they did last year after violence broke out.

In Orange County, Patrick Hynes, spokesman for the 1,600-room Anaheim Hilton and Towers, said: "We have had several tentative calls about using our hotel for backup for meetings scheduled for April" in Los Angeles in the event of disturbances. "At this point, there have been no bookings."

Terry Ashton, general manager of the Waterfront Hilton in Huntington Beach, said there have been no inquiries yet. "We got some business last time after the verdicts," he said. "I would expect if the same type of situation happens up there we will get some windfall from it."

At the Lake Arrowhead Hilton Resort, the 261-room San Bernardino Mountains hotel plans to boost newspaper advertising in Los Angeles if violence breaks out and install a television set in the lobby to keep guests up to date on the most recent news. During last year's rioting, business at the hotel rose 15%.

The hotel does not expect violence, and it does not want to appear to take advantage of any possible problems, said Julie Reigle, director of sales and marketing. But "we also need to have a contingency plan in case something does happen."

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Times staff writer Chris Woodyard in Orange County contributed to this story.

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