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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Hotel, conference center now open for business

By Clara B. Cox

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 28 - April 13, 1995

Six years after the Norfolk Southern Corporation handed Hotel Roanoke over to the Virginia Tech Foundation, the historic facility and its new, adjoining conference center have opened their doors for business.

"This project was one that many people thought could never happen. It withstood a national banking crisis, a plummeting hotel-conference center market, and many predictions that it would never work. Its success is a real tribute to the commitment from Virginia Tech, the city (of Roanoke), and the people of this region who not only love the hotel but saw a project that clearly made sense," said W. Robert Herbert, Roanoke city manager. The city, along with the Renew Roanoke Foundation, joined the university in raising funds and obtaining loans to make the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center project successful.

On April 3, the first guest registered for the night at the renovated hotel, and the Roanoke City Council held the conference center's first meeting as part of opening ceremonies.

The grand opening and dedication is scheduled for April 29 at 11 a.m., featuring remarks from Gov. George Allen, Carilion Health Systems Chairman and head of Renew Roanoke Thomas C. Robertson, Norfolk Southern Chairman David R. Goode, Del. Chip Woodrum, Virginia Tech President Paul Torgersen, Roanoke Mayor David Bowers, and Doubletree President and CEO Richard M. Kelleher. U.S. Sen. John Warner is tentatively scheduled to speak. Special music, including songs written by Roanoke Valley residents to commemorate the opening, will begin at 10 a.m. The celebration will be held at the Wells Avenue entranceway, with a rain location in the Roanoke Ballroom.

"The opening is the culmination of six years of cooperation with the City of Roanoke. While exciting in itself, it also affords the university a unique opportunity to further extend its continuing education and training programs to business and government through a large, state-of-the-art conference center," said Raymond D. Smoot Jr., Tech's vice president for finance and treasurer. Smoot has been involved in the project since its inception.

"From the very beginning, our goals fit together perfectly," Herbert said, adding, "As a land-grant university, Tech wanted to expand its continuing-education efforts, and we saw an opportunity to build a facility that would meet Tech's needs into the 21st century. Similarly, the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center provides us with facilities that can accommodate larger conventions and conferences, while also improving educational offerings. The end result, with the restored Hotel Roanoke and the new $13-million Conference Center of Roanoke, is facilities that will benefit the entire region."

As part of the new opportunities afforded by the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center, Tech is expanding its outreach activities to include business-university partnerships that will make use of the facilities' state-of-the-art technology. Outreach, which is headed by Harold A. Kurstedt, the H.G. Prillaman professor of industrial and systems engineering, will inaugurate its new activities at Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center on May 2 with "Conversation and Lunch with Dr. Stephen Covey," an invitational program for corporate CEO's and leaders in government and education.

Tech officials have said the lodging and conference facilities will also allow the university to compete nationally for scientific and academic conferences and workshops. Such events, officials say, will provide a boost to the local economy.

And the hotel and conference center will be a training ground for students in Tech's hospitality and tourism management program.

Built by Norfolk and Western Railway, the Tudor-style hotel quickly became a Roanoke landmark after opening its doors on Christmas day, 1882. At its re-opening this month, the hotel had been completely renovated, from Florentine marble floors to frescos and vaulted ceilings.

The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center now provides 332 sleeping rooms and suites, 63,000 square feet of meeting space, high-tech facilities, ergonomically designed chairs in the meeting rooms, and one of the largest ballrooms between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. Additionally, a conference-services desk will be staffed to monitor messages, provide secretarial support, and respond to every detail of meetings held there.

When Norfolk Southern gave Virginia Tech the hotel in 1989, the City of Roanoke and the Renew Roanoke Foundation worked with the university to raise the $40.3 million needed to renovate the hotel and build an adjoining conference center. In February 1993, the three partners announced that financing had been completed, renovation would commence, and the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center would open in 1995.

Former Roanoke Mayor Noel Taylor and Robertson led Renew Roanoke's grassroots fund-raising drive, which collected more than $5 million in two months, and $7 million overall. In that effort, Norfolk Southern contributed $2 million to the project; Carilion, $1 million. The City of Roanoke helped secure a $6-million loan from HUD toward the hotel renovation and secured a $13.8-million general-obligation bond to build the conference center.

The Virginia Tech Real Estate Foundation sold land for $3 million to Roanoke for the conference center and put that money and another $1 million into the hotel renovation.

Doubletree Hotels Corporation was selected to manage both the hotel and the conference center. A hotel-management company headquartered in Phoenix, Doubletree was operating 104 properties with 26,500 rooms by the end of 1994. Doubletree, which initiated a $31-million marketing campaign earlier this year, loaned $1 million to the project.

The HR Foundation, a subsidiary of the Virginia Tech Real Estate Foundation, owns 67 percent of the hotel, while Renew Roanoke owns 33 percent. The Hotel Roanoke Conference Center Commission, created by the General Assembly, oversees the operation of the conference center. The commission has six members, three from Tech and three from the City of Roanoke.