Last Thursday’s groundbreaking for the Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center culminated years of effort by many people, starting with the seed of an idea John Dienhart germinated more than 20 years ago.
When Dienhart, now professor and chair of Metro State’s Hospitality, Tourism and Events (HTE) Department, was a doctoral student at Kansas State University in the late ‘80s, he attended a conference at the University of Houston’s hotel. He was struck by the combined educational/business model.
Three things in particular caught his eye: “A beautiful facility, faculty that were doing an excellent job and having a good time, and an enterprise that was making money.”
The notion of those three key elements would guide Dienhart’s vision for years.
In the early ‘90s, Dienhart was teaching at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore when the institution built a small hospitality learning center in rural Maryland. The center’s location, Dienhart says, limited its client base, leading Dienhart to the realization that “a hotel and hospitality program, to be really successful, should be located in an urban area.”
Dienhart came to Metro State to chair the HTE Department in 1997, and brought the idea of an HLC with him. “When we developed the strategic plan for the department in 2000, and again in 2005, it included a hospitality learning center,” he says.
Meeting with the department’s industry advisory council in late 2005, Dienhart says, “The council sensed that we had grown as a department as far as we could, and needed to expand.” He and the council scheduled a meeting in March 2006 with Metro State President Stephen Jordan, who had arrived as president just nine months earlier.
“Several of our advisors really impressed upon Dr. Jordan just how valuable an asset the HLC would be for Metro State,” Dienhart recalls.Several meetings later, the HLC task force was born in January 2007, chaired by assistant professor of hotel management Chad Gruhl. And the rest, as they say, is history.
After two years of task force legwork, the initiative obtained legislative approval in April 2009 and was publicly announced in September 2009. The Board of Trustees established a Special Purpose Corporation in August 2010 to provide for the HLC’s financing, construction, operation and management, and the special purpose corporation issued bonds in November 2010.
Dienhart says the three crucial elements for the HLC’s success that he identified all those years ago are clearly in place at Metro State. “We have faculty with a hospitality attitude and service orientation; we are already making money with our continuing education offerings, research and product development, and events (and the HLC will generate money), and by 2012 we will have the actual HLC facility…. Plus our location, right in the heart of Denver, a true hospitality city, couldn’t be better.”
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