Morris Brown College will partner with Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. and Miami-based CGI Merchant Group to develop a $30 million hotel on the campus of the historically Black college.
On Thursday, the Morris Brown board of trustees approved the deal that will involve a long-term land lease on the school’s quadrangle and an overhaul of Griffin Hightower Hall, a low-rise building next to the historic Fountain Hall.
The project comes as Morris Brown tries to rebound from accreditation issues and as U.S. companies and philanthropic groups inject more money into schools within the Atlanta University Center to increase racial equity.
Crews will build a 150-room hotel under the Tapestry Collection by Hilton. The project, which is funded through CGI’s recently launched $650 million Hospitality Opportunity Fund, will also include three restaurants and space to train students.
The “H-Fund” focuses on acquiring and developing hotel properties throughout North American and Caribbean markets and target more than 20 hotels over the next three years. Partners in the fund include three-time Major League Baseball MVP and serial investor, Alex Rodriguez, and capital markets veteran and founder of Maverick CP, Adi Chugh.
“This is not just a commercial investment,” Raoul Thomas, founder, and CEO of CGI Merchant Group told Atlanta Business Chronicle. “We will be working with Hilton to support curriculum development and to provide guest lecturers.”
The project will span 125,000 square feet near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in southwest Atlanta. A hotel will make up the largest portion of the project, 91,000 square feet.
It would provide needed hospitality space just walking distance from campus. The nearest hotel is about a half mile from Morris Brown College. The 195-room Reverb by Hard Rock opened late last year next to Mercedes Benz Stadium in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood.
Several universities in Atlanta, including Georgia Tech and Emory University have large on-campus hotels which host guests and conferences.
In addition to the hotel, plans also include 34,000 square feet of classrooms and an auditorium.
“My goal is to become one of the top institutions in the country for Black and Brown people to learn how to own, operate, and manage hotels,” said Kevin James who became president of Morris Brown in 2019.
Founded in 1881, Morris Brown College is a private, liberal arts historically Black institution. It is considered the first college in Georgia to be operated by and for African-Americans.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the school had a notable hospitality management program.
Nearly 20 years ago, Morris Brown lost its accreditation after its former president and a financial aid director were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of fraud. While enrollment declined to fewer than 100 students, Morris Brown remained open.
Last month, members of the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, an accrediting agency, toured the campus.
In April, the group is set to vote on whether to make Morris Brown a candidate for accreditation. That would clear the way for the school to receive full accreditation within five years.
It will take money to get Morris Brown College back on its feet—to accommodate students, renovate its facilities and hire faculty and staff. But amid calls for racial justice and greater equity, corporate purses are wide open, as indicated by recent donations to other colleges in the Atlanta University Center complex.
“This is not a one and done contribution,” Thomas said. “The school will share directly in the [hotel’s] profits,” he said declining to give further details.
In addition to the profit-sharing agreement, CGI Merchant Group will establish a six-figure endowment for student financial aid.
The hotel is currently in the design phase. CGI Merchant Group tapped Atlanta-based C.D. Moody Construction and Chasm Architecture for the project.
The hotel at Morris Brown is expected to open in the summer of 2023.
Investors are optimistic that the completion date will give the hospitality industry time to rebound from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and also provide ample time for Morris Brown to bounce back.
“This announcement should definitely open the eyes of those who want to work in hospitality,” said James who anticipates prospective students will be excited to “be a part of the resurrection class [at Morris Brown], and attend a school that has its own hotel in one of the top cities for hospitality in the country,” he said.
Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle
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