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Monday, September 23, 2019

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UH Hilton’s upcoming $30.4 million face-lift is expected to benefit students


The Hilton University of Houston will undergo a $30.4 million renovation and expansion that will add 71 new rooms, almost doubling the current amount, according to a press release.

The Hilton is part of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management and offers its students the opportunity to learn and work in a full-service hotel, where many will go after they graduate. The program is one of the best in the world, and the expansion could elevate its ranking even more.

“This expansion is our future. The constraint of having only 86 rooms has made us an anomaly in the marketplace, but we are, in fact, a full-service Hilton franchisee,” said the dean of Hilton College, Dennis Reynolds. “Our new 151-room hotel will provide for a more realistic learning experience for our students because we will be operating in a manner more typical of a full-service, non-teaching hotel.”

The average Hilton hotel has more than 400 rooms. The Hilton University of Houston will still be smaller than most, but with the possibility for more guests comes the increased odds that more students will have the opportunity for hands-on experience.

“Our Hilton hotel is our ‘teaching lab.’ One hundred and fifty rooms is the ‘sweet spot’ for a college campus hotel in an urban setting,” said Director of Communications for the Hilton College Debbie Maurer. “Structurally, this is also as big as it can go. One hundred and fifty rooms compares to one-third of Hilton hotels.”

Increased capacity

The hotel is not often fully booked. Usually, the spring has the most amount of guests at 80 percent occupancy, fall has 70 percent and summer has 60 percent, said Miguel Cabrera, director of Development & Alumni Engagement for the Hilton College.

“(Guests come from) city compression and overflow from Downtown,” Cabrera said. “The increased participation from CVB and booking events within Downtown have allowed us to capitalize, as we are the closest Hilton full-service next to the Hilton Americas, which benefits us.”

The hotel is paying for the expansion through a revenue bond, which means it will be repaid by funds earned from the hotel over time.

The project does not yet have an architect but is slated for completion by early 2023. The 71 rooms will be added via a five-story tower over the south wing — the part of the hotel closest to Cougar Grounds — and the existing 80 rooms will be renovated. Along with room renovations, the courtyard will also get a face-lift.

Student-life impact

While the hotel is under construction, it will still be up and running. Guests and students alike will still be able to stay, work and learn during the renovation. Students will even have the opportunity to expand their knowledge surrounding the construction process, preparing them for more real world experience.

“The hotel will continue to operate during the addition of the new tower,” Cabrera said. “The learning will actually be amazing, as the renovation will be integrated with class projects so students can learn what is involved.”

Students comprise the majority of the hotel’s staff. Many work in housekeeping, at the front desk or with food and beverage, Cabrera said.

They have the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to a real-world setting,” he said. “This makes them more marketable as potential employees and reduces their learning curves as they begin their careers.”

The last time the hotel was renovated was in 2010, but there has never been an expansion, Cabrera said. The school was built in the 1960s and has been in use ever since. The college consistently ranks among the best in the world, according to a press release

The college is not sure yet how the renovation will impact traffic around the hotel and, by extension, the Student Centers.

“We will be working with the University’s Facilities Planning and Construction and the general contractors to minimize any disruption to our neighbors,” Cabrera said.

Exciting opportunities

The Hilton College is not planning on increasing enrollment as a result of the larger learning space. The college will continue to experience a steady increase in enrollment, as it already occurring unrelated to the construction.

“We continue to purposefully grow our enrollment — a bigger hotel doesn’t mean a larger college,” Maurer said. “The two are not related.”

Students have heard the buzz around renovation. While many will not be around to see the end result, they are still excited for the idea of improving the learning area.

“I think it’s a monumental step that the Hilton is taking,” said hotel and restaurant management junior and President of the Hilton College Ambassadors Alexsandra Macias. “It’s really going to benefit the students’ learning environment because more rooms are being added.”

She also hopes the renovation will benefit current students by increasing the standing of the college.

“Everything is being expanded altogether to give students more industry experience in our own hotel,” Macias said. “This is also going to bring more well-deserved recognition to the college from industry leaders and future students worldwide.”

Some students are worried about the cost of the renovation but are still optimistic about the possible end result.

“It’s $30 million, can’t we use it somewhere else?” said HRM junior Huda Sidiqui. “But now that I know it’s going to help with the schooling and make the major look better, that’s amazing.”

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