Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer
This last week, Berry began construction of a Fairfield Inn & Suites. The hotel will be located adjacent to the Rome Tennis Center. The project was first announced in the fall of 2019 after Berry had gotten the approval from Marriott for the franchise.
According to Todd Bradford, strategic property planning director, the project is expected to be done by fall 2021. Clearing, grading and site utilities began this last week. Once they are completed, the building’s construction will begin. Hogan Construction Group will hire all of the trade partners, from grading, electrical and plumbing. Hotel Equities Group is Berry’s development partner and will assist in furnishing the hotel and providing equipment. They will also be a part of the operations once the hotel is open.
The building will be three stories, have 81 rooms, a pool, fitness room, breakfast area and bar serving quick meal offerings.
Danny Price, Berry’s general counsel, explains that the building will not be like other Fairfield Inn & Suites found in the country. It will have higher quality exterior and interior finishes.
“It’s just endemic to Berry,” Price said. “When we build things, we don’t do them in the least expensive or the easiest way. We want this hotel to represent the level of quality and excellence Berry feels committed to in any of its developments.”
There are numerous reasons why Berry has decided to build the hotel, Price explained. In part, Berry believes that this hotel will help meet the high hotel demand for visitors to the Rome community.
“The community, when large tournaments are in town or large events … suffers from a shortage of quality hotel rooms, according to the local Convention and Visitors Bureau,” Price said.
Another reason is to provide Berry students unique experiences with the hotel, namely through employment opportunities and skills training.
“[This is part of the] overall mission and purpose of the college, which is education and improving the lives and employment opportunities of those people who attend the school,” Price said.
Specifically, Berry is working with Marriott to create student work related to hospitality management. There is also discussion regarding the creation of a certificate level program which can be added to management, public relations, marketing and other majors. This would help students have a better chance of gaining admission to training programs run by Berry’s hotel development consultants and Marriott across the country later on.
The hotel also provides families, prospective students, visiting teams, those attending weddings, Mountain Day guests and those visiting for the Governor’s Honors Program a place to stay besides the limited space at the guest cottages.
Berry is paying for the construction through a private equity investment from the endowment, as approved by the Board of Trustees. The endowment is largely restricted, meaning the college must invest most of it towards designated stocks, securities or equities. However, the college is allowed to independently invest some funds as the board chooses.
For the hotel, the college will invest up to $12 million in endowment funds. However, the money is not spent but rather remains a part of the college’s holdings.
“[We] still have an asset that’s worth [$12 million] or more, which will repay the investment and return income to support student aid so long as it reaches the projected operating capacity,” Price said. “Based upon feasibility studies and the projections that were done, [the hotel] should provide a repayment of that investment back to the endowment, plus income at or above what we would have expected from normal market-based equity investments. … It’s still there, we still own that asset and it’s still producing income, just like any other investment from the endowment would do.”
The City of Rome has agreed to rebate just over $1.7 million over a period of 12 to 14 years, to help subsidize the construction and operation of the hotel. This is expected to help the project save $150,000 to $160,000 a year, Price explained.
Another reason that Berry is constructing the Fairfield Inn & Suites through the endowment is that it allows Berry to maintain ownership of the hotel.
“We’re not giving or selling land to anyone, we’re not allowing anyone else a profit incentive, and we’re not giving anybody else control over the reputational interest of the college in terms of the quality of the hotel, or how it will be maintained and operated,” Price said. “The board of trustees has directed the college [to] maintain ownership on a long-term basis.”