THE Ritz-Carlton Hotel is to be sold to Lai Sun Development in a deal understood to have an agreed price of a little below $1.2 billion. A simple four-sentence announcement from Lai Sun Development apparently ended the year-long saga behind the 214-room 24-storey luxury hotel in Central that had no owner. The unsigned statement said: ''Lai Sun Development announces that Diamond String, a company owned by a syndicate headed by Lai Sun, has entered into a conditional agreement to purchase the Ritz-Carlton in Central. Completion of the purchase is expected to take place in August 1993.'' Details of the deal have yet to be released, but the hotel's controversial management contract is to remain and the building will be retained as a hotel. It is expected to open under the new owner before the final quarter of this year. Company director Billy Hung said last night: ''We have been interested in the hotel since the beginning of the year. ''You cannot fault the hotel's location. It has a lot of potential and we feel we have got a fair price.'' Under the deal, Lai Sun is expecting to gain a seven per cent annual yield. ''This compared favourably with the deal for Standard Chartered Bank Building, which was sold recently with the buyer only expecting a four per cent yield,'' said Mr Hung. Amoy Properties bought the bank building for $900 million in December last year. The Lai Sun statement ended: ''New arrangements have been concluded between the new owner and the management company and the hotel will be put into operation under Ritz-Carlton management. ''Preparations are already under way for the planned opening which will take place shortly after completion.'' The news of the sale comes at a busy time for the Hongkong hotel industry. After some years in the doldrums, an upturn in earnings in the sector has prompted Shangri-La to announce plans to list locally, Accor to undertake a secondary listing and Wharf (Holdings) to privatise Harbour Centre Development. Building of the Ritz-Carlton was mooted in October 1988 on the site of what had been Mercury House and Sutherland House. Construction began in earnest in 1989 under the leadership and ownership of Ginzu Golf Service, a publicity-shy Japanese company. Topping out of the structure occurred in March 1991 amid increasing speculation about the opening date of the hotel. With debt problems at GGS piling up, speculation about the possible sale of the hotel emerged the following month. The loan syndication behind the project collapsed in August, and the operation was put into receivership by the banks in June, 1992. Within a month the banks secured their ownership of the building. On July 22, GGS Hotel Holdings formally went into receivership and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu was appointed the receiver. The price of the Ritz-Carlton was put at about $1.6 billion at the time. However, market comment suggested this was too high and in February, amid a stalemate between interested buyers, the management contract holder and the receiver, it was even suggested that the building be razed before it had accepted its first guest.