Hocking College Holds Out For State Capital Bill For Inn Renovations

By
Arian Smedley - Athens Messenger staff reporter

Dateline
Updated Fri, Sep 27, 2013 9:57 am

With the prospects of a possible state capital bill in the near future, Hocking College officials are opting to hold out for state aid to finance planned renovations of the Inn at Hocking College.

Pending funding opportunities, Hocking College has developed plans to repurpose the Inn into a business training center in partnership with Tri-County Career Center. The plans also include expanded facilities for the college’s culinary arts program, which is considered the “champion” program at the college, President Ron Erikson has said.

In the spring, members of Higher Education Partners, a Massachusetts-based company backed by a private equity firm, approached Hocking College with the possibility of fronting the $3.5 million to renovate the Inn; Rhapsody Restaurant, an educational lab for second-year culinary and hospitality management students; and new online learning programs.

In return for the investment, HEP would receive a fee of the gross revenues from the business plan. College officials have been in discussions with the firm for the past six months to outline additional details but haven’t make any formal decisions.

The college was also approached by Stockmeister Enterprises, a Jackson-based general contracting firm. In that proposal, the scope of the $5 million project only includes renovations of the Inn and the restaurant and involve a different financing model described as a “lease-lease-back.”

“The college would lease the facility to the enterprise, then lease it back after the improvements were made, with a buyout option after 20 years,” explained Myriah Davis, the college’s vice president of administrative services during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Currently, the Inn, built in 1971, is only partially being used. The 42 guest rooms closed down in 2011 due to elevated mold readings. The remaining 60 percent of the facility is used mainly for the McClenaghan Training Center (part of the college’s culinary arts program). Other areas being used are the banquet facility, main and private dining rooms and the lobby.

Erickson said the joint committees researching the funding options decided the state-provided funds would be the college’s most reasonable option.

“It is difficult to overcome the competitive advantage of the capital bill,” Erickson said Tuesday. “As for the firms that are interested, we are flattered to be the object of their attention. It’s just difficult to compete with the state of Ohio itself. In a manner of speaking, capital money is free money. It’s difficult for anyone trying to make money to compete with free money.”

Given the college’s master plan to improve various areas of the institution’s operations, Erickson went on to say they’re not “closing the door” on partnerships with the firms and that other projects will likely be explored in the future.

Erickson did say a capital bill comes with its own set of uncertainty and called upon his colleagues to become politically active.

“There are people to call, offices to visits. It’s time to call in favors,” Erickson said. “It’s time to draw attention to our ideas here. We’re not only trying to build a great internationally recognized culinary arts center, we’re creating a regional workforce delivery hub, a business training center that could attract new business to the region.”

Erickson, along with other college and university presidents, will be meeting with Gov. John Kasich on Friday to discuss the governor’s plan for the capital bill.

The next trustee meeting is slated for Oct. 22 at the Logan campus.

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