Olds College partners in campus hotel project

Olds College has joined forces with a hotel chain to create a rural entrepreneurship institute that will be part of an upscale hotel, restaurant and conference centre.

OLDS — A $14-million hotel is just the beginning of a new initiative at Olds College, say officials.

On Thursday, president Tom Thompson announced a partnership that will involve construction of a new hotel and conference centre at the north side of campus on a five-acre site between the Land Sciences Building and Hwy 27.

The Pomeroy Inn & Suites will build and operate the hotel and conference centre while its ownership will be shared with the college, said Thompson.

Benefits to the college include access to conference rooms, which will provide learning space, along with jobs for students and income for the college.

“Over the years, many of the innovations we have arrived at in the process of (reaching our goals) require exactly the right private-sector industry partners,” Thompson said.

“In Pomeroy Inn & Suites, we have indeed found that,” he said.

Construction is to take a little more than one year, with the new hotel ready in the fall of 2012.

Ryan Pomeroy, president of the hotel chain first established in Fort St. John, B.C., in 1941, said his company has specialized in seeking out and filling demand in smaller communities in northern B.C. and Alberta.

Feasibility studies performed earlier indicate that while the hotel and restaurant will offer some competition to existing businesses, it will create a new market and generate more demand for rooms with the establishment of its conference centre.

“When you start to put product in and services, people decide to stop and stay the night there, where for the last several years they just drove through.”

Bill Quinney, former chair of the college’s board of governors, said he and other college officials have been working with Pomeroy to bring in an upscale hotel and restaurant.

The hotel would provide a learning centre for entrepreneurs who have come to the college to hone their skills in food service and hospitality.

The hotel project is at the sharp end of a new initiative that will focus more attention on filling the training needs for rural entrepreneurs, said Barry Mehr, chairman of the board.

Olds College’s newest centre for excellence, the Canadian Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship, will expand the college’s educational scope with a focus on rural entrepreneurs.

The new CIRE will provide significant educational opportunities in an untapped niche, while demonstrating Olds College’s approach to forming partnerships with governments, other educational institutions and private industry, said Mehr.

Included in the program is a plan to use the Alberta SuperNet to connect with students and deliver programs off campus.

Board of governors member Gloria Beck, owner of Parkland Nurseries and Garden Centre in Red Deer, said it is exciting news.

“As a business person, having students go through a program such as this will make them more ready for the business world themselves. All of us would like to see more of this practical-type training. When you see something like this come together, it’s a win-win for everybody.”