VUU plans lodge in Carver because it rolls out hospitality administration packages

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Virginia Union University campus on Northside. (Jonathan Spiers photos)

As the hospitality industry continues to recover from the pandemic, Virginia Union University is adding a hospitality management program to its academic offering, anchored in a new, student-run hotel in the Carver neighborhood.

VUU’s Sydney Lewis School of Business now offers three degrees in hospitality management: a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and an executive MBA specializing in hospitality management.

The private university – an HCBU or historically black college or university – launched the programs last year, all of which fully launched in time for the fall semester that began this week.

As part of the effort, VUU is also planning a hotel in the Carver area that will be open to the public and operated by students on the program to provide them with some sort of real training ground.

The construction site of the CD King Hall in Carver, where VUU is planning a student hotel.

Originally considered for a planned expansion of the VUU campus on the former motel site of the Budget Inn of Richmond, the hotel is now being planned for the site of CD King Hall, an administrative building owned by a university in Lombardy and Leigh Street, across from Leigh by Maggie L The Walker Governor’s School.

The university hired Retro Hospitality, a Richmond-based management group that includes the Quirk Hotel, to conduct a feasibility study for the hotel project and set up an advisory board for a VUU hotel management school.

Paul Cooper

The study picked CD King’s location over other options considered, including land next to the Sugar Shack Donuts in Leigh and Lombardy, said Paul Cooper of Retro Hospitality. This location is currently under development for Carver Square, a 90 unit condominium project from Stanley Martin Homes.

“It will be a project that supports the education of the students through the hospitality management program, and then it has to make economic sense from a commercial point of view as well,” said Cooper, noting that the hotel was open to transients. “We’re doing a pretty thorough study to suggest what level of amenities and services this hotel offers.”

This study, due later this year, would also determine whether the CD King building would be renovated and incorporated into the hotel development or demolished for a new build.

Subject to the approval of the administration and the board of trustees of VUU, the project would include a call for proposals from general contractors, architects and engineering firms. A tentative name for the project is Virginia Union University Hotel and Conference Center, although the conference center component remains in the air.

Cooper said the project could take 18 to 24 months after approval to complete, which puts the hotel’s potential opening in the 2024-25 period. He said the project cost and other details have yet to be determined.

The former Budget Inn of Richmond, where plans to expand the VUU campus were announced in late 2019.

Motel location project still planned

When VUU announced plans for a mixed-use building to replace the former Budget Inn of Richmond on Lombardy and Brook Road, officials said they envision a 50- or 60-bed hospitality management program on the upper floors of the building would, being the main floor made of showcase for small businesses.

Robin Davis

Although this building is no longer planned to be a hotel, the university still plans to develop this location in line with the conceptual renders presented in the 2019 announcement, said Robin Davis, dean of the Sydney Lewis School of Business, who oversees hospitality heads management expenses along with Associate Provost Terrell Strayhorn.

“We’re still going to do something with the motel,” Davis said, adding that specific plans and a timeline for this project don’t need to be released yet, but the general concept would be the same, with educational programs over the storefronts downstairs.

On the CD King site, Davis added, “We thought this would be the best neighborhood for a hotel because of the traffic and it’s not too far from Broad Street and you have the Kroger and so on.

“Our wish is to make sure, given the pandemic, that our workforce is really ready to ramp up, especially after the pandemic has ended. People are going to want to travel and talk and things like that, so at VUU we really need to communicate (the hospitality management program).

Industry support

To this end, Davis and Cooper have reached out to hotel contacts across the region and others in the industry to publicize the programs and seek support and potential board membership.

Names include regional heavyweights like Quirk owner Ted Ukrop, Jay Shah of Shamin Hotels, Justin Knight of Apple Hospitality, and Eric Terry and Jim Wilson of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association. Davis said she also reached out to the general managers of downtown Marriott hotels, and Coopers contacted the administrators with Virginia Tech and JMU hospitality programs.

Davis said she invited those she contacted to represent the industry at a career development event scheduled for September on the VUU campus.

As for the reception of the programs so far, Davis said enrollment has grown steadily since the launch of the Bachelor program in January and the introduction of the Executive MBA in the spring.

Deborah Martin, VUU Graduate Admissions and Development Coordinator, said the Executive MBA has already enrolled 59 students and is still receiving applications.

“That was more than expected,” says Martin.

The mixed-use building planned for the Budget Inn site was intended for the hospitality management program. (BizSense file)

Enrollment numbers for the Masters course launched this semester were not available, but Martin said they are aiming for an initial cohort of 10-12 students. All programs are offered online.

Davis said that while the programs are in development before the pandemic, the programs come at a crucial time for the hospitality industry, which is struggling to recruit staff again after layoffs and other cuts in 2020, especially at the executive level.

“One (executive) said she lost about 80 percent of her business and laid off 80 percent of her workforce shortly after the pandemic began,” Davis said. “Now he said they are trying to increase the hiring and he has 93 vacancies that he cannot fill quickly enough.”

Terrell stray horn

Strayhorn, who was named VUU’s deputy provost for research, innovation and graduate education last year, said the university’s hospitality management programs add value compared to others across the country.

“We currently have probably the cheapest executive MBA in the country,” Strayhorn said, noting that some MBAs can cost up to $ 70,000 over the course of the program.

“In 12 to 15 months, you can get an Executive MBA from Virginia Union, a historically black college in the United States, for no more than $ 20,000. It’s just amazing, ”he said. “It’s an Executive MBA at an HBCU in the Commonwealth capital. It’s affordable and has multiple tracks, including church management. “

Laughing, Strayhorn added: “Every pastor in the country should do our MBA right away.”