On Monday evening, members of Swarthmore’s administration held an informational Q&A; session on the college’s plans to build a hotel in Swarthmore. The hotel’s construction will be funded and supervised by the College, and its primary purpose will be to provide lodging for people attending college-related activities.
The meeting featured a presentation by Richard Pastorino, the principal of the company REVPAR International, which has been hired by Swarthmore to advise them on the project. Pastorino began by providing general background information and hotel statistics, including an analysis that compared the Swarthmore project with other similar hotels designed to serve mainly a college or university and its neighboring town, such at Wesleyen, Amherst, and Villanova.
According to the analysis, roughly two-thirds of the hotel’s business will come from the college-related activities, including sporting events, theatre productions, and academic conventions. The majority of business will come from prospective applicant visits and weddings on campus.
The hotel is designed to be small in scale, with 40-45 rooms, 4,750 square feet of meeting space including a ballroom, courtyard, meeting rooms, and a boardroom, a restaurant, and a lounge/pub. The hotel is expected to have a regular occupancy rate of 45-55%.
At one time, there were plans for the hotel to be contracted out to a chain, but it has decided to be an independent business. Since the majority of the hotel’s business will come from the college, it would be inefficient to give up a large portion of revenue to a brand. In addition, keeping the hotel independent gives the college more flexibility in its operation, allowing it to stay true to the Swarthmore’s mission to have it support both the college and community.
Another important component of the plan is the hotel’s restaurant. The restaurant and pub will be open to local residents for lunch and dinner and will provide “upscale dining in a casual, refined atmosphere,” according to Pastorino. The restaurant will also cater nearby events.
A major concern that arose in the question session was whether the restaurant would be given an alcohol license. Swarthmore has traditionally been a dry town, and questions were raised about how the alcohol license would fit in with the college’s “mission.” President Rebecca Chopp responded that since the hotel would be used for occasions like weddings, an alcohol license would make sense, and that the town trusts the college to control access to alcohol (the town voted to allow the licensing in a close decision in 2002).
Other concerns during the question session included costs, sources of funding, equitable payment of the hotel’s workers, and integration of the establishment into the town. Questions were raised about the benefits the hotel would bring to the town, the response being that in addition to increased business and tax revenue, the hotel would provide a unique social function by becoming the town’s “living room,” with the newly relocated college bookstore providing a gateway between the town and the college.