In January, Washington State University announced plans for a hotel and conference center on a site adjacent to the campus, located in Pullman. It will be the area’s first conference center in a hotel setting. Another project, a 250-room hotel and conference center at UCLA, was announced in November. The center, estimated to cost $212 million, will be funded by a private donor and bonds. The project must first be approved by the UC Board of Regents and, if approved, construction will begin in mid-2013 and be completed by early 2016.
Meanwhile, upgrades are taking place at the Marcum Conference Center and Miami Inn, at Miami University of Ohio. The facility is decreasing from two buildings to one and reducing its room count from 90 rooms to 50.
“Our rooms have not been renovated in about 20 years and they were looking very dated,” says Amy Poppel, director of conference & hospitality services. “The decor was very colonial—it’s a copy of an academic building at William and Mary. We’re going to a very traditional contemporary feel that fits our clients better.”
The project will be completed in June, and the center is operating throughout the renovation.
These upcoming and upgraded conference centers—and others like it across the nation—will give planners more options outside of standard hotel venues.
“University conference centers tend to be very technologically advanced,” says Tom Bolman, executive vice president of IACC. “They often are a little bit less expensive than other conference centers, but they are built to an executive standard. They also have a lot of resources on campus that planners can use. Professors can serve as speakers. Students can be brought in as focus groups.”
University conference center executives and planners who have worked with these facilities agree that these venues can compete successfully in the market.
Charles F. Knight Executive Education and Conference Center, on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, is a great example of that. With 66 guest rooms and meeting space for groups that average 35 to 50 people, the center hosts about 3,200 meetings each year.
“Since we’re on a university campus, about 60 percent of our business comes from the school, with the rest from corporate and association groups,” says Bryan Mueller, director of sales. “Our AV is top notch. There’s nothing that we can’t do here.”
There’s also a department at Wash. U where planners can go to find professors, if they want to use the instructors for their programs, he notes.
Concerns voiced by planners revolve around accommodations and location.
“People at first thought we have dorm-style rooms, but we have as nice a room as any flagged hotel in the city,” he says. “Parking is always a concern, but we have a dedicated parking garage.”
Mara Christensen, director of sales and marketing for the University Inn and Conference Center, at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, faces some of the same concerns, which are for the most part unwarranted. The benefits of university venues are many, she says, including a pricing level that may not be available elsewhere.
“There is a community within a community and it’s an enlightening, stimulating environment,” she says. “There are a lot of open areas and unique places to host functions. We can often team up with other venues on campus for after-hours events and have state-of-the-art space for music, theater and opera.”
The University Inn and Conference Center includes 74 guest rooms, 9,000 square feet of meeting space and a 400-seat auditorium. Like six other centers across the country, University Inn is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It hosts government, military and educational conferences but most of the business is from associations related to university research.