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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Long-proposed hotel and conference center reaching completion

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Photo by Courtesy

The 250,000 square foot hotel and conference center is planned to feature retail space, food and drink options and more. 

Opening next fall in time for the beginning of the 2018 football season, the Doug Pitcock ‘49 Hotel and Conference Center looks to provide visitors to Aggieland with a hotel a few feet away from Kyle Field and over 35,000 square feet of space for meetings and events.
Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Phillip Ray said through public-private partnerships (P3), the creation of the conference center became a reality without the university or system providing the funding. Ray traced the idea of a hotel and convention center back to before the current Texas A&M University system chancellor took office in 2011.
“The hotel-conference center has a long history and it was before Chancellor [John] Sharp was with the system,” Ray said. “[Former University President] Bowen Loftin had expressed an interest in building a conference center on campus. He came to the chancellor at the time, [Michael McKinney], for money, but neither the university or system could fund the idea at that point.”
Ray said after the Kyle Field reconstruction was completed, discussions of a hotel began again. The university came back around to the idea and it was pushed forward through the use of a P3.
Used for almost 30 projects at A&M already, Ray said the idea of the P3 system consists of the university leasing the land where a project is being worked on to an outside developer. The developer then goes to get the funding for the project in conjunction with the university, and creates a project that meets the standards and expectations the university sets.
The private company receives an amount of money designated by the deal made with the university and after the lease is up, the building ownership returns to A&M and the university can choose to stay with the company or change how they handle the project.
The hotel portion of the facility was proposed as a way to generate revenue for the conference center’s construction, Ray said.
“We’ve had experience with [P3], and you’ve seen things like Century Square, U Centre at Northgate, Easterwood Airport,” Ray said. “We’ve done close to 30 of these now, but at the time we were exploring any opportunities to accommodate a need. So the thought came up that we need a revenue generator to pay for this because we don’t want to use any student fees, we don’t want to use any money that would originally go to the university. So the thought came up for a hotel.”
According to Ray, the system has seen many misconceptions when it comes to funding for the new facility. Through the construction of the two buildings together, Ray said, the conference center can be funded with the revenue from the hotel and no funding comes from the students or university itself. Other universities including Virginia Tech, UCLA and LSU also use this model, and Ray said the excess revenue goes directly back to the campus after the hotel is funded.
Alex Cabanas, Class of 1998, is the CEO of Benchmark Hospitality, the company running the upcoming hotel and conference center. He said his company has been in talks with the university to act on the idea of the facility since the 1980s.
“We started working with a past team and when I met with Phillip Ray, I had in my hands a typewritten letter, on Benchmark letterhead, from 1987 talking about a hotel and conference center on the campus,” Cabanas said. “We’ve been interested in doing this for a long time so it’s interesting to see it come to fruition.”
Cabanas said his company has worked on hotel and conference centers at college campuses across the nation with roughly the same product type, though each facility is unique for their particular university.
“We’ve done a lot of hotels similar to this, so we understand what is needed for this,” Cabanas said. “This is going to be unique because I see this as being ‘the guesthouse’ of the university. We can’t be the living room of the university becuase that is taken [by the MSC], but we are the guesthouse and we look forward to hosting any and all constituents, alumni, students, parents, companies that are in the area that come to the university.”
Laylan Copelin, vice chancellor of Marketing and Communications for the Texas A&M University System, said the increase in available space can draw in new companies and conferences, increasing academic and career opportunities for students.
After the hotel opens up, Ray said the hotel and conference center will allow for meeting spaces for everyday use by student groups as well as potential future hotel management programs and internships.
“As part of the design process, students have been front and center because ultimately, we educate students here,” Ray said. “A lot of people miss that this is a collaboration between the MSC too. Go try to book a room there and you are going to have a hard time. We believe that there will be space here available to the public to use. We have conversations going on for corporations to come recruit here, have hotel hospitality programs for students and internships available. Those ideas are being bounced around.”
Other campus construction includes two projects funded by the university: the upcoming 21st century classroom being designed now and the student services building, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2020. Ray said while these campus improvements cost a lot, utilizing public private partnerships for facilities such as the hotel and adjacent parking garage help keep the overall direct cost of campus development down.
“If you add all these improvements up, you’re talking over $300 million of improvements that directly benefit students, but it’s not $300 million that came directly out of A&M’s budget,” Ray said. “I think having a four-diamond quality hotel and conference center on campus like a few other campuses have, I think it helps us. It’s that Aggie excellence that we are looking for. If we do it, we are going to do it the best.”

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  • The construction of the Doug Pitcock ’49 Hotel and Conference Center has been in the works with Benchmark Hospitality since the 1980s as the University offers more space for students and guests.

    Photo by Courtesy

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