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FAU Hotel & Conference Center

Break out the mints and the fresh linens: FAU has been considering adding an academic hotel to campus for several years now and it sounds like plans are finally ramping up to make it a reality.

As part of its 2014-2019 Capital Improvements budget request, FAU has a $45M appropriation to fund an FAU Hotel and Conference Center. The hotel would be 200k sq ft and house 250 rooms.

The funding source is listed as "P3" which Wikipedia clarifies as a "public-private partnership". Essentially what this means - as it was explained in a BOT meeting back when they first talked about it - is that FAU would partner up with a company like Hilton or Radisson to come in and "provide a public service or project and assumes substantial financial, technical and operational risk in the project." So basically we setup a mutually beneficial relationship with a professional hotelier company; we get academic space and boosts to our programs, they make some profits. Not sure what (if any) our profit would be, if they make the hotel profit and we make the conference center profit, or if they simply pay us a flat fee of a couple million to rent the land from us (if anything I'd put my money on this last idea)

To some, the idea of a hotel on university property may seem absurd. Why build it here? Why build it at all?

I believe the general idea is twofold:
(1) You provide a "real world" academic hotel environment for Hospitality Management majors, a field first founded at Cornell back in 1922.
(2) You provide opportunities to host conventions, research fairs, employment fairs and other events that would draw in both the FAU community and others to our beautiful campus.

Other possible reasons for building a hotel and conference center include:
(1) Generate other streams of revenue for the university.
(2) Creating a space for visiting alumni and fans for athletic events, i.e. if fans from Marshall University come down for a home football game at the House That Howard Built.
(3) Provide rooms for visiting professors, new faculty/staff that are still looking for housing and of course guest speakers like Jane Goodall.
(4) Have a place for parents to stay when they're in town for Freshmen Move-in Day or graduations.

It's not unheard of. Cornell has The Statler hotel. And Sam Houston State University has one where guests can "enjoy the convenience and comfort of accommodations right on campus for visits with family members and Sam Houston State athletic events as well as conferences, meetings, seminars or special events." Guess who has one here in Florida? You got it: UF has one in their Student Union - the Reitz Union Hotel.

And now we're (hopefully) joining the fray.

As I mentioned, FAU has been thinking about this for a while now. Back in January 2009, Craig Angelos elaborated on the idea in his "Ask the A.D." section of the FAU Athletics website:

"With regard to a hotel in Innovation Village, we have been pushing that concept hard. We think it would work great on our campus and even contribute to the cost of building the stadium. Nevertheless, we haven't been able to get much traction on that concept. We are hoping that once we get the original Innovation Village done that people will feel more comfortable adding more elements to the project. I know the City of Boca is a little hesitant for us to involve ourselves in that project. So as of right now it is not part of Innovation Village but perhaps in the future it can be added if there is enough support."

Something like this takes time, careful planning and negotiations. Boca is going to have to warm up to the idea, I guess, but it really shouldn't impact things like traffic or police staffing. I'm not sure if the P3 means they've already established an agreement with someone or that they would like to begin negotiations and need the BOT's blessing. Considering the specific numbers quoted, I'm inclined to think it's the former, but I should have more information once the actual meeting takes place on Monday.

Hopefully they also mention where on campus the hotel and conference center would be built. The obvious answer seems to be "near the stadium" but that could get a little crowded, what with the plans for not only Parking Garage 3 (currently under construction, as you know) but also the Innovation Village Phase II/Greek Housing they have slotted for west of the new parking garage. Potentially you could build it north of the stadium, though then you compromise the owl burrows there. If I had to hazard a guess about the most likely spot in that area, it would be in the parking lot west of the Alumni Center and north of the Business complex.

The advantages there are:
(1) Across the street from the stadium and the future retail of Innovation Village.
(2) Next to the Alumni Center means you can weave alumni events into the offerings; stay here and walk next door to the alumni center where, say, a gala is being held.
(3) Hospitality Management is a business major so clearly it makes sense to have it close to the B-school.

The disadvantages are:
(1) Oh no, you took away more parking spaces.
(2) You may limit future expansions of the Alumni Center, depending on the design.

Based on a rough eyeballing of the Google satellite maps, I wonder if that's enough space. They're looking for 200k sq ft. By comparison, Parliament Hall (the new dorm) is 197k sq ft. I guess it could be done, especially if you go more vertical.

I always thought FAU would start kinda small with an academic hotel and build it adjacent to Shake Shack in University Commons. That way you have a hotel right on Glades and visitors can walk next door to all the University Commons shops (that kind of amenity is key to attracting guests) or instead walk across the street to campus. That does severely limit your space though and it's a good 15-20 minute walk to the stadium. And it's not technically on-campus, to say nothing about being near the B-school. So I get why that probably wouldn't work.

Anyway, let's hope the BOT gives its blessing. A hotel and conference center would be a huge deal for FAU. Check back Monday night to see if there are any updates!

Almost football season - hang in there!



About This Blog: Development news and ideas for FAU and Boca Raton including campus updates and photos! NOTE: I am not a journalist. I do not work for FAU. The opinions expressed herein are not the opinions of Florida Atlantic University or their affiliates. They are merely public opinion. All attempts will be made to give credit to original copyright holders where applicable.


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