The University of Rhode Island is exploring options for a potential hotel and apartment complex on Upper College Road.
Recent work with a design firm yielded an updated plan for a 185,000 square foot facility to include a 100 room inn, up to 100 apartments, retail and meeting space and a restaurant. It involves the university only contributing the necessary land and, as of now, no money. Beyond the value of the land, the rest of the $89 million project will be funded and managed privately.
The idea has been included in, at least, URI’s last three capital budget submissions and was mentioned to some degree in the 2000 Kingston Campus Master Plan, but it has recently gained more traction.
“We’ve focused some more attention on it this year,” said Assistant Vice President J. Vernon Wyman, the URI administrator largely responsible for capital planning, financing and real estate. “There have been some informal expressions of interest from parties that were aware of our aspirations,” he added.
According to Wyman, a market study will begin later this month to better determine interest from private operators, as well as survey any activities on campus that could generate activity for the hotel, restaurant and other businesses in the facility. Wyman lists special events, the Thomas M. Ryan Center, athletics, guest lecturers, human resources and even student organizations as possible beneficiaries of the plan. The university’s bookstore could also be relocated to the new facility.
“Every student organization that’s active on the campus will be brought into the survey process to understand what activities get developed over an annual cycle,” said Wyman. According to him, the new facility would give students greater options on a campus that he admits is “slightly isolated.”
As the campus-wide demand for housing increases, the included apartments would also create more options for students interested in living in Kingston.
“We’ve been doing evaluations of [the demand for on-campus housing] and this is another way that could be addressed – potentially leveraging private investment,” Wyman said. The plan to include apartments has expanded recently, he added. The Providence Journal inaccurately reported the cost of the project as $57 million, based off a previous plan that included fewer apartments.
Following the conclusion of the market study, according to Wyman potentially even later this school year, requests for proposals will be made as private investors are brought on board. For any land to be granted, a “development contract” will give the university a say over design and architecture, the use of the facility, and other stipulations.
Wyman stressed that any of the current ideas are subject to being changed based on the results of the market study, saying “at this stage it’s largely planning.” However, he offered the hypothetical that “if everything fell in place, and we went through a series of steps, it might be July of 2019…that might be the soonest you could expect to see this project coming to closure.”