U.S. considers upscale hotel for infamous Alcatraz

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The National Park Service is considering adding a hotel to Alcatraz Island, site of one of the world’s most notorious prisons.

A man rows a boat past Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay in San Francisco, California in this November 12, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Unlike the cells afforded to inmates such as Al “Scarface” Capone, the facility would offer upscale accommodations like those now available at the Ahwahnee Hotel in California’s Yosemite National Park.

“People are constantly saying they want to see more of the island,” National Park Service Spokesman Rich Weideman said. “A hotel would be the ultimate experience in visitor access.”

Alcatraz Island is run by the U.S. National Park Service and is already San Francisco’s second most-popular tourist attraction, after its famed cable cars.

About 1.5 million people take ferries to visit the prison cellblock every year, and summer tickets sell out weeks ahead.

But many visitors say they also want to see parts of the 12-acre (5-hectare) island that are closed to the public, including wildlife areas, the room where prison guards bowled and the prison theater where gangsters watched “From Here to Eternity.”

A hotel, likely built in a structure that once housed prison guards, would for the first time offer the general public 24-hour access to “the Rock” and capitalize on the park’s popular night-time tours.

That’s when evening fog shrouds San Francisco from view. But island visitors, like the prisoners before them, can still hear activity emanating from the city.

“It’s a very eerie experience,” Weideman said.

Many development ideas, including adding a casino or a new prison, have been floated since the federal penitentiary closed on Alcatraz in 1963, according to newspaper USA Today. But the island’s status as a national historic landmark set within a national park has made development difficult.

The hotel is one of several proposals the park service is now weighing as part of its new general management plan, which will guide park development and renovation for the next 20 years.

Others include serving food to visitors in the prison cafeteria and adding boat tours to the island’s perimeter.

The park service is taking comment on the proposals and will use public remarks to create a new draft of the general plan next year, Weideman said.

Editing by Xavier Briand