Two investment subsidiaries of Kutztown University Foundation, Ursus Aureus and Gold Bear Ventures, hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for a 100-room Hampton Inn & Suites in Kutztown on Aug. 21.
The property, located at 15180 Kutztown Road in Maxatawny Township, is owned by Ursus Aureus, Inc. and will be managed by TKo Hospitality Management. Construction, led by Wohlsen Construction, is expected to be completed by September 2019.
Ursus Aureus, Inc. Board of Directors President Scott Dorn, KU Class of 1979, said the hotel project was conceived at a brainstorming session in September 2015.
“During that meeting we established a goal to further diversify the Kutztown University Foundation’s investment portfolio. They kicked around several ideas that day, one of which was to study the viability to construct a hotel on KU Foundation owned land,” said Dorn.
Since that meeting the Foundation purchased the land that was formerly the site of The Campus Inn.
“I’m really happy to say that idea gained traction and after feasibility studies and due diligence we determined a hotel would fill a need for our community, the University and the Foundation while providing a strong return and allowing us to meet our goal of diversifying the endowment investments,” said Dorn. “It has taken an enormous amount of perseverance to stay the course and today, this groundbreaking is the culmination of countless hours of meetings, design reviews, zoning and permitting hearings and application processes.”
Dorn thanked the Foundation Board, KU President Dr. Kenneth Hawkinson and the KU Council of Trustees for their support of the project and to “create long-term value for our endowment and ultimately create value for the community, the University, the alumni, the faculty, and, most importantly, our students that attend the University.”
Kutztown University Foundation Board of Directors President Bob Landis said the project started by looking at costs. Inflation raises the price of everything each year, including the price of a college education, he said.
“Many of our Kutztown University students were struggling mightily and continue to in order to raise enough funds each year to stay in school,” Landis said. “A trend that we noticed that’s grown until today is that the number of students who qualify to stay in school, want to stay in school, are considering abandoning their dream of a college degree because of being $500 or $1,000 or $1,500 short of what they need to stay in school.”
Landis said, “It was that inspiration that had us looking at everything that we could do to maximize the amount of funds we have for scholarships.”
Wanting to be a good steward and savvy investor of the monies entrusted to them, Landis said the KU Foundation investigated options to diversify investments into something that enhances earnings but manages risk. Feasibility studies confirmed that this area is right for investing in a hotel.
“What’s our board know about building and running a hotel? The answer turns out, quite a bit.”
Board members have experience in managing commercial investment building projects and hospitality industry, he said.
“It was this unique set of circumstances combined with our steadfast commitment to the University, the community, that lead us to a unanimous vote to approve this project,” Landis said. “We are incredibly excited about all that this endeavor can offer to Kutztown University and to the surrounding communities.”
KU President Kenneth Hawkinson said that one of the first things he and his wife Ann Marie noticed about Kutztown was the lack of a hotel that could provide accommodation for conferences and large meetings which limited the University’s ability to host large events.
“We are already reviewing the opportunities that this hotel brings to us,” said Hawkinson. “I would like to make the first reservation.”
Hawkinson invited the other 13 state system university presidents to Kutztown in August 2019 for the annual retreat. His announcement received loud applause from those in attendance.
“This hotel will provide accommodations for numerous University events, the Kutztown Folk Festival, and for those attending events sponsored by our PA German Cultural Heritage Center,” he said. “It is our hope that the hotel interior will be decorated with a number of our German American artifacts from our Center. There are many festivals and fairs in the region that will now have another housing option, and, of course, those corporations and businesses in the area will have this Hampton Inn available for their use as well.”
State System of Higher Education Board of Governors Chair Cynthia Shapira requested reservations for the Board of Governors to meet in Kutztown in October 2019.
“We’re all so thrilled to witness this incredible step for Kutztown University and the exemplification of what great public private partnership among Foundation, University and corporate world can do.”
Shapira said the relationship between the University and the Foundation is symbiotic.
“The University Foundations play a key role in enabling Universities to deliver excellent education that prepares our students for productive and fulfilling careers and lives. And many times it’s just that stop gap last few dollars that is the difference between a student completing that dream or not and that is something we want to make sure happens like this at every university,” said Shapira. “This really exemplifies the best of what a Foundation can be.”
In these challenging times, which Shapira calls times of opportunity, she said it’s more important than ever for foundations to be raising this kind of funding.
“It’s a win-win for everyone. It’s economic development for this region but also will spin off revenue to support scholarships by the University and other critical University initiatives. It’s really my hope that this grows and the endowment grows … and are another source of revenue that the University can count on.”
Shapira said higher education needs to move away from depending on state allocation while keeping tuition costs down.
“We need to look at new models and you all are at the forefront of doing that,” said Shapira.
KU Council of Trustees Chair Tom Heck said a new hotel will mean greater wealth coming into this area, providing more jobs.
“We are delighted to work with the Foundation on this project and look forward to many more collaborations with them.”
Vince DiFonzo, President & COO, TKo Hospitality Management who will manage the hotel, said they are excited to have students working at the hotel.
“This project is a great addition to KU and the community,” said DiFonzo. “We’re just so proud and excited to be a part of this.”
State Rep. Gary Day, chair of the PASSHE Caucus, said KU is a gem for higher education, growth and economic development.
Kutztown Mayor Jim Schlegel welcomed the Hampton Inn chain to the greater Kutztown area.
“Since the Revolution, Maxatawny and Kutztown have been a stopping point for weary travelers,” said Schlegel.
Maxatawny Township Board of Supervisors Chairman Allen Leiby said the hotel will be a great asset for the community and looks forward to the hotel building a stronger bond between visitors and the Maxatawny and Kutztown area.
The event concluded with a luncheon held in the Georgian Room at Old Main on KU’s campus. Attendees had an opportunity to view renderings of the completed hotel, including photos of the rooms and facilities.