|By Maggie Stehr, The Bismarck Tribune, N.D.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 17, 2005 -The sign outside United Tribes Technical College echoes the college's plans for future growth.
"United Tribes is soaring," said Bismarck Mayor John Warford, reciting the words posted near the school's entrance. "And the city of Bismarck is moving along with it."
College and city officials provided a progress report Monday on plans to build a new full-service hotel and convention center in Bismarck-Mandan.
But after more than a year of planning and two feasibility studies, progress on the 250-room hotel has been slow moving.
"We are moving forward on this project," said United Tribes President David Gipp. "We were getting our resources together. We want to do it right."
The proposed hotel includes 30,000 square feet of conference space, which will hold 2,000 people. The hotel also will serve as a training ground for hotel management and culinary students, he said.
Despite the drawn-out process, Gipp is still looking to open the hotel in 2006, with construction set to begin in six to nine months.
The profit-making project's benefits extend beyond the classroom, Gipp said.
Gipp said the hotel will create 230 full-time jobs -- 129 on-site employees and more than 100 related jobs in other businesses. Hotel and convention center business would generate an estimated $16 million annually, with $1.1 million of annual city sales tax revenues, he said.
Although still negotiating with city officials on possible locations, Gipp said he hopes to build the hotel on city property near the Bismarck Civic Center.
The city-owned parking lots around the Civic Center include about 1,158 spaces, said Dick Petersen, Bismarck Civic Center general manager. If the new hotel overtook one of the lots, Petersen said the city would need to compensate for the lost parking spaces.
"It will have an impact on any lot," he said. "We would need some way of recapturing the spaces lost."
Gipp said the Civic Center site offers a profitable market for conferences -- near such tourist attractions as restaurants and shopping.
Hotels connected to large conference centers -- such as the Bismarck Civic Center -- increase a city's attraction for large groups, said Terry Harzinski, executive director of the Bismarck-Mandan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
When the CVB markets Bismarck for conventions, it often promotes the city's more than 600 rooms within walking distance of the Civic Center. Another hotel would add to the advantage.
"It's pretty obvious that if you have property next to a convention center, its going to be a plus for a community," he said.
Other building locations include the United Tribes campus and an undisclosed privately owned site, Gipp said.
Construction costs -- which would be covered by outside investors -- vary with the locations, said Barbara Schmitt, United Tribes economic development director. Past estimates put a $30 million to $40 million price tag on the project.
Gipp said a report detailing investors and costs would be ready in the next 60 days. College officials will then present the report to city officials, he said.
Planning for the project began with a 2004 feasibility study, which concluded the city's demand for rooms warranted the new hotel.
With busy weekends, like the McQuade's softball tournament, state basketball tournaments and United Tribes powwow, Bismarck could use more rooms, Harzinski said.
The city's occupancy rate has been 66 percent for the past three years, Harzinski said. The high rates show that another hotel would be successful, said Ken LaMont, a Bismarck State College assistant professor of hotel, restaurant and management.
College officials are considering partnering with a hotel franchise, and Gipp said room rates would be in "the upper scale."
And rather than negative competition, the new hotel would expand other hotels' business. Gipp said.
"It's a win-win situation for everyone," Schmitt said. "It will open up the avenue to bring in conventions that Bismarck is not able to compete with now."
In the setting of a working hotel and conference center, Gipp said planners will develop a real-world training lab for students.
By exploring partnerships with Bismarck State College and University of Mary, Gipp said the teaching hotel will offer a world-class education.
The hands-on experience would prove invaluable for students entering a high-demand field, LaMont said.
The two-year hospitality program at BSC has been about 90 percent full year after year, and LaMont expects 25 to 30 students enrolled next year.
Although BSC's program includes working in local hotels, LaMont said a full-time training site would centralize students' education.
To create a curriculum for the new hotel, Gipp said UTTC would rework an existing food and nutrition program, which now enrolls 25 to 30 students.
The new program would catapult UTTC as a leader in hospitality training -- offering the first training hotel in the region, Gipp said.
"We want to be sure there is room for students to learn and train," Gipp said. "But also be well within the realm of a profit-making area."
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