THE newest place to sleep in San Joséis the brand-new Sleep Inn San JoséDowntown. It’s the first large hotel to bebuilt in the city center in almost 15 years.The $6-million hotel, which opened thisweek, is also the first outpost of the globalSleep Inn franchise in Central America.Although downtown San José, with itsreputation for seediness and street crime,has not exactly been a prime destinationfor tourists, the Sleep Inn is a great newoption for visitors. It’s smack-dab in thecenter of the city, within easy walking distanceof downtown attractions such as theNational Theater and the Plaza de laCultura. In contrast to most of the smallboutique hotels in the area, this upscalebudget hotel offers the North American stylecomfort and facilities that businesstravelers, in particular, expect.From the outside, the block-long, sage greenedifice facing Parque Morazán has aslightly blank, prefab look. Built in justeight months, it’s quite modern, withsmooth walls and flat windows. But architectAvy Aviram says he designed thethree-story hotel to blend in, as much as amodern structure can, with its historicneighborhood, which includes ParqueMorazán and next-door Parque España,bordered on the east by the old NationalLiquor Plant (now the National CulturalCenter) and on the north by the yellowEscuela Metálica and the ornate CasaAmarilla that houses the Foreign Ministry.The hotel’s dormer windows and towerecho the style of the Escuela Metálica, andthe building’s low scale fits in well withthe other historic buildings on the perimeterof the parks.INSIDE, the lobby is simple but elegantand opens onto an atrium buffet breakfastrestaurant beneath a grand spiralstaircase. A full American breakfast,included in the room rate, is served here.On the other side of the staircase is a smallbusiness center with two computers and aprinter/fax/scanner/copy machine.These spaces are greatly enlivened byoriginal art, commissioned specifically togive the public areas some local personality.Along the back restaurant wall is aneye-popping collection of huge, colorfulfruit and vegetable paintings by IreneSáenz. At the entrance, a series of largepaintings by Denis Salas depicts details ofParque Morazán and leafy Avenida 3, alsoknown as Paseo de las Damas, for the rowsof damas (juniper berry) trees that line thissection of the busy road. The spiral staircaseleads up to the hotel’s pedestrianentrance on Av. 3, within sight of the treesthat have somehow weathered decades ofSan José traffic fumes.Upstairs, the rooms – 86 of them,including four mini-suites – are cookie cutteralike, with a slightly institutionalfeel. Drapes and bedspreads, in subduedearth tones, are a little humdrum, and thewall art, unlike the original paintingsdownstairs, is blandly generic. But therooms have every modern convenience tomake a business traveler or tourist comfortable:two doubles or one king-size bed,cable TV, broadband data ports, microwaves,coffeemakers, minifridges, irons and ironing boards and a security box bigenough to hold a laptop. Ample closets anddrawers allow you to properly unpack.There are even coin-operated washingmachines and a dry-cleaning service in thehotel to keep your wardrobe in tip-topshape.ROOM windows are soundproof andtinted to keep out the hot sunlight. Unfortunately,these windows are also sealedshut, so you have to use the air-conditioningunits, which are modern and effectivebut still emit that characteristic A/C hum.The tiled bathrooms are well lit andequipped, with standard bathtub/showersor extra-large showers without a tub. Theonly differences between the mini-suitesand standard rooms seem to be size – thesuites have a sitting area with a sleep sofa– and price.In compliance with Costa Rica’s newhandicapped-access laws, nine rooms arespecially designed for either wheelchairboundor blind guests, with wider doorsleading into the bathrooms and safetyhand bars in the showers. The hotel elevatorshave Braille lettering on their controlpanels.On the ground floor, there’s a verysmall exercise room with stair-climber,treadmill and free weights.But most of the hotel’s action probablywill take place in the adjoining ClubColonial Casino. The hotel’s main entranceoff Calle 11 shares the driveway and parkinglot with the casino, which also has a24-hour restaurant.THE hotel franchise is owned by theSociedad Hotel Paseo Las Damas, headedby president Shelby McAdams, who alsoowns the adjoining casino. McAdams saysit took 15 years to amass the real estate tobuild the hotel.In this neighborhood, known for casinosand prostitution, how will this hotelescape the notoriety of other hotels in thearea?“Both gambling and prostitution are …legal businesses,” McAdams says. “But Idon’t think they necessarily go together. Infact, I think it (prostitution) is bad for business,so we will continue our casino policyin the hotel: We do not permit the girls tosolicit on the premises.”Club Colonial has the reputation ofsticking to that rule in the casino, so it’s agood bet the hotel will be a place whereyou can feel comfortable booking a downtownroom for your family or a businessassociate. As part of the worldwide chainof Sleep Inn franchises, the hotel will beinspected twice a year to make sure it complieswith strict quality standards.The Sleep Inn is a welcome addition tothe San José hotel scene, filling a niche fora comfortable, safe, moderately pricedhotel in the city. And for city residents, it’sa pleasant new landmark in “el puro centrode San José,” which can only benefit fromthis kind of investment and sprucing up.