The SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown at Metro State held its grand opening last Wednesday, when representatives of business, civic life, politics and MSU Denver gathered for a ribbon cutting and reflection on the risks and rewards posed by the project.
MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan recalled that planning for the Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center (HLC) got underway in earnest just as the economy started to slip into recession. But the University’s Foundation Board and Board of Trustees moved forward with the project to provide a top-shelf teaching and learning environment for students and faculty in the growing Hospitality, Tourism and Events Department.
"To do this at a time when nobody was building anything in the country ... it took some real courage on their part and leadership," Jordan told the 200 or so people gathered in the outdoor courtyard of the building for the ceremony.
The SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown at Metro State opened for business on Aug. 3 with the grand opening five days later. It adjoins the 28,000-square-foot academic building/learning laboratory for MSU Denver’s 635 declared HTE majors. The Marriott-affiliated hotel is managed by Denver-based Sage Hospitality.
Walter Isenberg, president, CEO and co-founder of Sage Hospitality and a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, cited the educational aspect of the hotel, where students will gain hands-on experience working alongside professionals from Sage Hospitality.
Jordan noted that students will be involved in developing a budget to ensure the hotel’s success. They will work with hotel staff on troubleshooting issues such as staffing, promotions and other elements of the day-to-day running of a hotel—all with the goal of preparing them for their future careers.
The facility will benefit all HTE students and raise the profile of the program. “Within our industry you always hear that hands-on experience is the most important and this building provides that avenue and opportunity for us to start learning while we’re still in school how things work,” says Leticia Duarte, an HTE senior.
And that's going to make HTE grads even more competitive in the workplace. "Once more employers know what we've created here...they're going to want our students even more than they currently do because of that real-world experience," said Chad Gruhl, chair-elect and associate professor in the HTE Department who oversaw the project.
Groundbreaking for the HLC, the second new building in the MSU Denver neighborhood—the Student Success Building was the first—was held on March 31, 2011. Isenberg remarked that the 150-room hotel with 5,000-square-feet of meeting space offers stunning views of downtown and is outfitted with original art by MSU Denver students, faculty and alumni.
Jordan thanked the team of faculty and administrators who turned retired HTE Chair John Dienhart’s vision for an HLC into reality, including Gruhl and Sandra Haynes, dean of the School of Professional Studies.
The state-of-the art academic building will be ready for classes when the fall semester starts on Aug. 20. An opening celebration, with tours for faculty, staff and students, is scheduled for Sept. 14 and a community gala and fundraiser will be held onsite Sept. 27 from 6 to 9 p.m.
The HLC is financed through an innovative public/private partnership, and no taxpayer dollars were used for the $45 million facility. MSU Denver is leasing the land from the Auraria Higher Education Center; bonds for the HLC’s construction costs were issued in November 2010 and revenue from operations, as well as private donations, will service the debt.
MSU Denver has already raised about $5 million toward a $12 million goal to cover a portion of costs associated with the HLC, says Greg Geissler, assistant vice president for development. A Donor Wall in the learning center lists companies, foundations and individuals who have already given $5,000 or more in support of the academic side of the facility.
“It’s been very encouraging so far, and now that we have a completed state-of-the-art building…and people can really see the quality environment that’s been created for educating our students in hospitality, we’re confident that the momentum in fundraising will continue and be stepped up in the coming months,” Geissler says.
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