MONTROSE — Colorado Mesa University's Board of Trustees approved a new $15.7 million on-campus teaching hotel on Thursday, a concrete step forward in a project more than four years in the making.
Current plans for the Maverick Teaching Hotel include a 60-room, 45,000-square-foot facility with an attached restaurant and bar on Kennedy Avenue between Confluence Hall and the rugby field.
The boutique-style hotel will offer experiential learning for students in the hospitality management and culinary programs at CMU, said Britt Mathwich, assistant professor of hospitality management.
"It sets you apart from other hospitality programs, from a competitive standpoint," Mathwich said. "This gives you a lab on campus, so it's definitely an advantage."
The hotel could employ student workers and interns, Mathwich said, as well as enable out-of-classroom learning and observation for other students. It could also be an opportunity for business, marketing and other students to get real-world experience, Mathwich said.
CMU is partnering with Mars Hospitality, a Parker-based company which also owns the Holiday Inn and Suites on Crossroads Boulevard near Grand Junction Regional Airport, to operate the hotel.
Trustee Joan Ringle said in the project's early stages that there was some hand-wringing about whether a boutique hotel was viable in Grand Junction.
"We weren't sure, at the beginning, that Grand Junction would embrace it because it's so different from the hotel stock," she said. "But it seemed like if we were going to do it, why do something that was already on Main Street?"
Ringle said while the hotel's primary purpose is to serve as an educational tool, "any bit of extra revenue we can get is a good thing."
Increased revenue was also a reason CMU staff offered in their submitted proposal on Thursday.
"With state support for higher education continually eroding over time, the university is tasked with developing entrepreneurial ways to develop new revenue streams to replace declining state appropriations," the proposal said.
While Trustee Doug Quimby said it was "a hard question" if the hotel was the right way to spend $16 million, he told other board members that the project was a good investment.
While much of the $16 million CMU is spending on the project is currently invested and earning interest, Quimby said the rent CMU will earn from the property is also a return on an investment.
"It has a lot less risk than the stock market," he said. "It's not a hugely great return but it's solid and it's not risky, it's safe."
Construction on the hotel will likely begin in the fall and is slated to take 12 to 14 months.
CMU President Tim Foster said the university is currently in talks with local restaurants that might be interested in a partnership to operate the hotel's bar and restaurant.
Trustee Betty Bechtel abstained from the vote on Thursday, citing a family relationship with the project's contractor, Shaw Construction.