|By David DeWitte, The Gazette, Cedar
Rapids, IowaMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 26, 2008 - C EDAR RAPIDS -- The Center for Continuing Education that opened this month at Kirkwood Community College is student friendly and environmentally friendly, but in two years it also will be traveler-friendly.
A project costing $22 million to $24.5 million will add a fullservice hotel, restaurant and culinary arts education facility at the southeast corner of Kirkwood Boulevard and 76th Avenue SW.
Linked by a corridor to the 43,000-square-foot continuing education center, the hotel will have about 70 rooms, including three presidential suites and three executive suites, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining areas, a conference room and other amenities of a full-service hotel.
Slated to go out for bids in May, the project will take about two years to complete.
It was developed to provide students in Kirkwood's lodging management, culinary arts and restaurant management programs with hands-on experience.
Kirkwood's full-service restaurant will move into the facility from its location in the Mansfield Center, freeing space on the main campus for more classrooms.
Culinary arts and hotel-motel management are among the hottest programs at Kirkwood, with about 180 students in culinary arts and 21 each in restaurant management and lodging management. The culinary program often faces a shortage of kitchen space that makes it hard for students to get into lab classes when they want them.
Hotels owned and operated by two-year colleges are rare. But Kirkwood, with more than 15,000 students, has a larger enrollment than some universities that operate them.
"Because of our size, we do things differently," Kirkwood President Mick Starcevich said.
The hotel is expected to make up $10 million to $11 million of the cost, with the culinary education facilities accounting for the remaining $13 million to $14 million.
Revenue bonds will be used to finance the project over 20 years. The bonds will be paid off using the net income of the hotel and restaurant.
Starcevich said area hotel managers generally support the hotel project because it will help them overcome a shortage of trained hotel-motel management employees, while increasing the area's room inventory by less than 3 percent.
Some area hotel managers contacted by The Gazette were not aware of Kirkwood's plans, and some were leery of them. One that could be affected is the Clarion Hotel on 33rd Avenue SW, which gets a lot of Kirkwood's business, Clarion General Manager Tom Zeisel received his education at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., which operates a hotel as part of its respected lodging management program. Zeisel doesn't think it's wrongfor a college to operate a hotel, but is concerned about the size of Kirkwood's hotel. He will be watching closely to see whether it competes with privately owned hotels.
At Cornell, Zeisel said, the hotel exists mainly to serve visitors to the university, does not advertise to the public and charges rates higher than many commercial hotels in the area.
Zeisel, who joined the Clarion last summer, said he has offered to bring Kirkwood hotel motel students into the Clarion on a management internship basis as a partial alternative to constructing the hotel.
Starcevich said Kirkwood visitors will make up a big chunk of the bookings. Equestrian events at the KirkwoodEquestrian Center, for instance, are expected to provide a majority of the weekend bookings. During the week, the college expects to receive many of its bookings from travelers visiting businesses that operate on or near campus.
Kirkwood Community College assistant professor Lee Belfield said the idea for the hotel arose a few years ago in discussions about creating the lodging management program he leads at Kirkwood.
The concept was reviewed by an advisory committee of hotel-motel industry executives set up to advise the college and received favorable responses, he said.
Starcevich said Kirkwood researched hotels at colleges across the nation before designing the project. The concept will be modeled after the 82-room Atherton Hotel at Oklahoma State University's Stillwater campus.
Once a humble student union hotel, the Atherton underwent a $6 million ecofriendly upgrade in 2001. It advertises itself as "Oklahoma's premier boutique hotel." Kirkwood's hotel isn't expected to operate as a franchise of a hotel chain. Rather, Kirkwood plans to create its own brand and work out a long-term relationship with a hotel chain for access to its reservation system.
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