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Texas A&M University

Expected to be ready for the 2018 football season, a yet-to-be-named hotel and conference center situated near the heart of Texas A&M's ever-growing campus is expected to be "an integral enhancement" to the on-campus facilities, Texas A&M University System Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Philip Ray said.

Once completed, the hotel will join the Cain Parking Garage just off Wellborn Road at the previous site of Cain Hall. The 250,000-square-foot project is planned to include a full-service restaurant and bar, 1,000 square feet of retail space, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, an outdoor event area, a 650-seat ballroom and more than 28,000 square feet of conference and meeting space. The eight-floor hotel will have 250 rooms -- 237 standard rooms, eight standard suites, three hospitality suites and two deluxe suites. Ray said room costs still are being determined. The hotel is being constructed by Gilbane Development Company and will be operated by Benchmark Hospitality. Ray said to fund the project, the university is utilizing a public-private partnership.

Under the deal, Ray said, A&M is ground-leasing the land for the hotel to the nonprofit National Campus and Community Development Corporation of Austin.

"We think it's going to be a tremendous asset," Ray said. "It's going to be an amenity that we think will help supplement what we have at the [Memorial Student Center]."

"I think some folks have the misunderstanding that A&M is providing the funding for this facility, but that's not true," Ray said. "It's money from private sources, raised by [the National Campus and Community Development Corporation] through bond sales that is constructing this hotel and conference center."

While he said the university does not receive an upfront payment -- such as the $18 million it received up front in the public-private partnership to construct the Park West Apartments -- Ray said there are a few ways in which revenue will be produced.

Ray said one way A&M plans to raise funds is by offering room licenses to interested guests, allowing them to purchase the ability to have guaranteed booking for a given room over a set period of time. Ray said exact details of the offer will be announced in the coming months. Ray said there also are plans to offer the naming opportunity for the hotel to an interested financial sponsor. Between the two sponsorship methods, Ray said the university expects to be able to generate upwards of $40 million. Once the bonds for the structure are paid off, Ray said full ownership of the hotel and conference center will be given to Texas A&M. "Once the bills are paid, all net revenue will go to Texas A&M," Ray said. "After the bonds are paid off -- which typically takes about 30 years -- A&M has full ownership of all the improvements. It's an innovative way to get a hotel and conference center constructed and operated on our campus."

Shannon Overby, president and CEO of Experience Bryan College Station -- formerly the Bryan-College Station Convention and Visitor's Bureau -- said the new hotel and conference center will provide new opportunities for events to be held on the A&M campus.

Overby said the new facilities will build off of the organization's preferred access agreement with Texas A&M, which allows the organization to utilize certain areas on the campus as its conventions center for free or at a "significantly discounted price."

By bringing a hotel directly into the most event-friendly area of campus, Overby said it will become more attractive to event planners who prefer to have "everything in one place."

Overby said the hotel is one of many new spaces her office will have as a resource in the next few years, serving as the latest addition to a trend of rapidly expanding growth in the local hotel market.

Along with Texas A&M's new on-campus hotel, The Stella in West Bryan and The George and Cavalry Court in College Station's forthcoming Century Square -- on University Drive near the intersection with South College Avenue -- also have been developed in the area, expanding the options visitors will have for their stay.

"Back when I first started with the bureau 23 years ago, we only had around 1,200 hotel rooms, and by next year we'll have over 6,000," said Overby. "These trendy new additions are going to be great facilities for us to sell, but to have several of them at one time is an interesting situation."

Venkatesh Shankar, professor of marketing and Center for Retailing Studies director of research at Mays Business School, said the recent and continuing growth in the Bryan-College Station area have created a "perfect storm" of "upscale, luxury hotels all coming together at once."

While he said he has no doubt there is demand during football season and other event weekends which occur throughout the year, Shankar said the biggest challenge he sees for the hotels will be finding ways to fill hotel rooms on weekdays consistently throughout the year.

"The challenge to these luxury concepts is that you've got to keep occupancy rates high throughout the year," Shankar said. "In some sense, there is a danger of over-supply, and managing the occupancy rate throughout the year may be a challenge."

Overby said to help fill rooms during the week, the staff at Experience Bryan College Station plans to do its part to attract industry groups and events to fill rooms during the slower times of the week.

"When oil and gas trailed off, it left a hole in the hotel industry for mid-week, Monday through Thursday," Overby said. "In response, we've had to take a different focus and looked for corporate and business groups to bring to town during the week."

Overby said her staff is working specifically to reach out to the mobility, sustainability, health care and energy industries, which she said Texas A&M, the cities and other economic development groups have been making an effort to connect with.

Ray said while the timing of the new hotels coming to fruition in the time span of just a few years may seem like cause for concern, he believes the growth of the area can support each addition, with each of the properties and its unique features attracting its own clientele.

"It offers more selection for our community," Ray said. "We want them all to succeed. ... With all the growth we have, there is enough here for all to succeed, and I think that's a great situation that we find ourselves in here in Bryan-College Station."