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Marriott International Hotels, Resorts & Suites' purchase of 49% of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. for $200 million is fueling speculation Marriott will end up owning all of Ritz in a few years.

"That option is there," said Roger Conner, VP-communications for Marriott.

Ritz maintains the remaining 51% stake.

The sale will be absolutely transparent to Ritz guests, said Rick Rickertsen, partner in Thayer Capital Partners, the New York investment firm that put the deal together.

"Marriott will respect Ritz as a stand alone brand," he said.

Mr. Rickertsen said Ritz was seeking a partner to help it grow and Marriott was looking for a luxury brand, the only lodging segment where the Washington, D.C.-based chain didn't have a real presence.

Cole Henderson Drake, Atlanta, handles Ritz. Marriott is reviewing its $15 million account, (AA, Feb. 27) with incumbent FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York, among the contenders.

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