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Swiss hoosegow to be hotel

The tourists who flock by the hundreds of thousands to Lucerne every year soon will have a new alternative to the city's pricey hotels _ the local prison.

City officials plan to convert the historical jail into a 63-room hotel for budget-conscious travelers.

"The cells are very impressive, even beautiful," said Jean-Pierre Furler, one of the planners. "And the bars at the windows don't really spoil the view."

Plans call for the hotel to open in 1999, by which time the low-security inmates will have been moved to a prison outside the central Swiss city.

What is now an exercise yard for prisoners will be converted into a "leisure area," complete with restaurant and bar.

The narrow cells, each equipped with two beds, will remain unchanged.

But it has not been decided yet whether to remove the bars from the windows in the 3-foot-thick walls, Furler said.

The century-old stone prison, on the edge of the old town, is listed as a historical site, which rules out any structural changes that would alter its character.

The hotel is part of the city's answer to a growing demand for cheaper lodging in a country with a reputation of catering to the well-heeled.

Lucerne, an ancient city famous for its wooden bridge, picturesque lake and stunning Alpine scenery, attracted 395,000 foreign visitors in the first nine months of last year, many of them Americans.

A double room in a two-star hotel averages $100 in the summer, the peak season.

Prices at the new hotel haven't been set yet, but Furler said the nightly rate would likely range from $13 to $20.

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