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August 20, 2019

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Groundbreaking for UNLV hotel college’s new digs was years in the making

UNLV's Hospitality Hall Groundbreaking

Steve Marcus

Stowe Shoemaker, Harrah Hotel College dean, speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for Hospitality Hall on UNLV campus Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

UNLV’s Hospitality Hall Groundbreaking

Eric Davison, fine wine portfolio manager for Southern Wine and Spirits, sabers the cork off of a magnum of Moet Chandon Imperial champagne during a groundbreaking ceremony for Hospitality Hall on UNLV campus Wednesday, March 30, 2016. Launch slideshow »

Construction of a state-of-the-art facility touted as the future of UNLV’s world renowned hotel college is finally underway.

College officials, community leaders and executives from the Strip’s largest gaming companies gathered Wednesday evening to break ground on “Hospitality Hall,” a 93,000-square-foot, $56 million building that will also serve as the college’s new home.

“Here at UNLV we are going to double down on hospitality,” said Stowe Shoemaker, dean of the hotel college. “This building will mirror what’s on the Strip.”

It will feature classrooms, meeting rooms, an auditorium, administrative offices as well as a rooftop event space overlooking the Strip. A student-run cafe will be backed by cutting edge learning kitchens.

The college is currently housed next door in Beam Hall along with the business college.

Held in true Vegas fashion, the glitzy affair at the construction site on the school’s North Field just outside the Lied Library featured a live jazz trio, lounge chairs and hors d’ouevres carried around by a meticulous team of UNLV hospitality students.

Donors to the project, in addition to the privilege of naming rooms in Hospitality Hall, walked home with champagne bottles engraved with their names as well as concept art of the building.

Guests were treated to refills of brut champagne from Napa Valley’s Chandon winery, courtesy of university partner Southern Wine and Spirits. Partnerships like these are what university leaders say is the key to the college’s success.

“I can’t think of a better example of that than right here in this building,” said UNLV President Len Jessup. “Universities need world-class facilities.”

The facility is long overdue for the hotel college. As more of the cash coming into Las Vegas is splashed in nightclubs, restaurants and bars rather than on the casino floor, companies are looking to UNLV to provide trained workers in the industry.

“I think there is a renaissance going right now all over the country in hospitality, and Las Vegas in so many ways is the epicenter of that,” said Christopher Silva, CEO of St. Francis winery in Sonoma County and member of the hotel college’s advisory board since 2006. “What’s happening today represents a significant bridge between the university and the industry.”

“This is a huge step forward,” he added.

The hotel college’s current flagship facility, the Stan Fulton Building, is located on the northern edge of the 332-acre campus, more than a half-mile from the core of the university. The 16-year-old building currently houses an international gaming institute, a casino lab, a student-run bistro and ballroom space.

Hospitality Hall will bring all that closer to home, though it comes at the expense of the North Field, a popular outdoor hang-out spot for students located in the heavily-trafficked area right outside the Lied Library. Bulldozers are already in the process of digging up the field.

UNLV has steadily accumulated support for the facility in the form of millions in donations from major corporations like Las Vegas Sands, Konami Gaming, MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment. Private funding accounts for around $20 million of the building’s roughly $56 million price tag. The rest comes from public sources.

But the story of Hospitality Hall has been nearly a decade in the making. Plans to expand the college’s footprint date back as far as 2007, when Harrah’s Entertainment promised to contribute $25 million toward construction of a new hotel college complex — complete with hotel — if UNLV could match that in fundraising and state money.

That didn’t happen, thanks to the recession. The Harrah’s donation fell through, the Legislature had other priorities and, as a result, plans for a new building were shelved. That changed again around 2010, when Don Snyder became dean of the hotel college.

He outlined a plan for a single building in the heart of campus, not a far-flung hotel complex that threatened to compete with Strip resorts just a short drive away.

Hospitality Hall was the result, and it gained the support of Gov. Brian Sandoval, who carved out $24 million for the construction of the building in the state’s budget last year.

The building is expected to be completed spring 2018.

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