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WSU explores hotel, conference center

WSU is looking for a private development company to partner with the university to design, build and operate a hotel and conference center on the Pullman campus.

According to a report by WSU’s School of Economic Sciences, a wired lecture hall or amphitheater, smaller breakout rooms, convenient dining and comfortable rooms — the basics of most conference centers — would allow Pullman to host hundreds of conferences and annual meetings that are now lost to more urban areas.

“We are talking about bringing in another level of activity that we don’t have now,” said Gerald Schlatter, associate vice president of Capital Planning and Development.

No facility
There is no facility in Pullman that works well for a two- or three-day conference with 50 to 200 people, he said. Beyond that, a campus hotel with a restaurant would provide another social venue — a meeting place for alumni, visiting scholars and local residents, he said.

Unlike a typical setting for a conference center, Pullman presents some challenges, such as its remote location. But it also has some advantages, such as a home constituency that attends and plans hundreds of conferences each year. WSU’s Hospitality and Business Management program could both bolster and benefit from the hotel/conference center, Schlatter said.

“I can see some interesting things evolving from this,” he said. But, to find a solution that works for Pullman, developers are going to have to “think outside the box.”

Interested development companies are being invited to submit a listing of their qualifications by Nov. 1, but the deadline could be extended if necessary.

Unlike a request for design proposals, this request is an attempt to identify two or three development companies with the necessary experience in university-based hotel and conference center management to put together a financially viable plan for a self-supporting or profit-generating facility.

“All we are looking for is their qualifications,” Schlatter said. Once two or three well-qualified companies have been identified, they will be asked to present specific proposals.

“The challenge is, you don’t want to do something like this and have it fail financially,” he said.

Companies invited
The parameters of the proposal are that WSU wants a conference center that can accommodate groups of up to 200 people, with both a large amphitheater for multi-media presentations and breakout rooms for smaller gatherings. A full-service restaurant would be part of the plan, and the hotel portion of the project would serve both overnight guests and extended-stay visitors. The project description does not include a specific number of rooms, preferring to see what the development company recommends.
Possible site
The suggested building site is north of the Student Recreation Center, along North Fairway Drive, but Schlatter said other sites could be considered as well. WSU will maintain ownership of the land, he said, but could provide the development company with a ground lease.
WSU has been considering a hotel/conference center for a long time. Two feasibility reports were conducted in 2002, including the survey by the School of Economic Sciences. But, Schlatter said, the missing piece was the new golf course. Without a golf course, he said, it is very difficult to attract large groups for multi-day conferences.

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