UNLV hits Harrah’s jackpot

A $30 million gift from the Harrah’s Foundation will breathe new life into UNLV’s hotel school by giving it a new building and massively expanding its number of students and faculty.

Being able to call itself the best hotel school in the world will be nice, too.

The university’s hotel college has usually been regarded as the second-best in the world — next to Cornell University.

But the largest corporate gift in the university’s history should allow it to surpass its Ivy League competitor once and for all.

With due respect to “Ithaca, New York, and its 11 hotel rooms,” Harrah’s CEO Gary Loveman said Monday, “the greatest hotel school in the world will now be the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.”

Of the Harrah’s gift, $25 million will be used to pay for half of a new, 100,000-square-foot academic building for the hotel college. If university officials aren’t able to secure another $25 million for the building, they plan on lobbying the Legislature in 2009 for funding.

The other $5 million will go toward research and recruitment.

Monday’s announcement signaled renewed support for the hotel college and the biggest shift in the college’s history — “a milestone for the hotel college,” UNLV President David Ashley said.

The college will be transformed into a “campus within a campus” on the southeast corner of Tropicana Avenue and Swenson Street, according to hotel college Dean Stuart Mann.

Students and faculty will move out of its current, cramped location at Beam Hall, near the center of campus. The new building will allow the college to grow from 2,500 students to about 4,000, and nearly double the number of faculty, to 100 from 55.

The new academic building will be the anchor for the college’s INNovation Village, an ambitious project announced two years ago that will give companies a place to showcase and test their latest products.

Nearly seven acres will be set aside for a 200-300 room hotel, a conference center, parking garage, and the new academic building, which will include food and nutrition science labs and teaching kitchens.

The 35,000-square-foot Stan Fulton Building, which currently houses the International Gaming Institute at UNLV, will also be incorporated into the project.

A “flagship” company — such as Marriott or Radisson — will pay for, design and operate the hotel and conference center. The university is in the first step toward accepting bids for the project, and Mann said the hotel and conference center could break ground as early as late spring of 2008.

Numerous corporations, eager for a showcase for their latest technology, have already expressed interest in participating in INNovation Village, Mann said, including Microsoft, Sony, Hewlett-Packard and Bose.

For a fee, companies will be able to test everything from new door locks to new lighting and furniture. Microsoft has software for use in hotel room entertainment centers that it would like to test, for example, Mann said.

The university isn’t sure how those projects would be applied — whether guests could elect to stay in a room with different technologies. But UNLV students would be exposed to emerging technologies before they hit the market.

The donation also renews Harrah’s’ naming rights for the college, which it received by giving $5 million to the college in 1989.

All of that should put UNLV’s hotel college, which is already located in the greatest learning lab in the country because of the thousands of hotel rooms, at the top of the list for the world’s hospitality programs, Loveman said.

Mann, however, said the college wasn’t in a “ranking war” with other colleges. He said Cornell is probably the best in the world in the education of “banking and financing” of hotels.

But UNLV’s is the best overall program in the world, he said.

“I had a dream, and I wanted to see this happen,” he said.

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