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Hilton Garden Inn to debut at Saint Mary’s

Kelly Meehan | Friday, August 25, 2006

The scenery surrounding Saint Mary’s campus will soon be altered as plans for the construction of a Hilton Garden Inn immediately northeast of campus are already underway.

The 100 to 125 room hotel and 400 to 500 person conference center – expected to open by the start of the 2007 football season – are not under the jurisdiction of the College, but rather the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, which owns the land surrounding the campus.

Sister Joy O’Grady, president of the Congregation, said she first discussed the construction plans with the Congregation on Jan. 16, 2006.

She informed the Congregation would be “entering into an agreement with the Holladay Corporation and Saint Mary’s College to lease land bordered by the current Inn at Saint Mary’s, Madeleva Drive, Brother Andre Drive and the Indiana Toll Road to construct a 100-unit Hilton Garden Inn Hotel and a 350-seat conference center.”

“Collaboration with the leadership of the College and their buy-in to the project was and is a priority for the leadership team and me,” O’Grady said in her January 2006 address.

Mooney said she and the Congregation have communicated for more than a year, but “there were many details to be ironed out before the plans could be finalized.”

This summer, “enough of those matters were resolved that it became clearer that the project would move forward,” said Mooney, who formally announced the plans to faculty, staff and administrators at the College forum on Aug. 16.

“I have tried to cooperate with the Congregation in this endeavor while also protecting the College’s interests,” she said in her address. “The Congregation, of course, owns the land and may do with it what they like.”

The Congregation made the decision to lease the land to the Holladay Corporation as one of its “financial and growth decisions that will support the Sisters in continuing their ministries around the world,” O’Grady said.

“Through their ministries in healthcare, education, social work, justice and spirituality, the Sisters of the Holy Cross strive to be in solidarity with people of many cultures and nations, witnessing to the mission of Jesus in our global reality,” she said.

O’Grady said the decision to build the hotel was made after the Congregation was approached by Holladay Corporation.

“After much discussion, research and analysis of the feasibility of the project in light of benefits to the congregation and the academic and civic communities of South Bend and the surrounding areas, the congregation decided to enter into an agreement,” she said.

The decision to locate the hotel in the northeast corner of campus was made through dialogue between the College, the Sisters of the Holy Cross and the Holladay Corporation, O’Grady said.

To accommodate parking for large functions at the hotel, Mooney “resisted locating the parking south of Brother Andre Drive, wanting to preserve the green space in front of the College.” She instead negotiated a land swap with O’Grady.

The College has opted to deed one acre of land west of Angela Drive to the Congregation and in exchange will receive the land east of Madeleva Drive in front of the Welcome Center and Madeleva Hall.

The Congregation’s newly acquired land will allow additional parking to the north and east of the hotel and will soften the sharp bend in Madeleva Drive.

Mooney called the College’s newly acquired land a “good exchange.”

“It gives the College a larger buffer in front of our buildings, and the land we are getting – which is the same acreage as that we are giving away – is quite likely higher in value than the land the College is deeding to the Congregation,” she said in her Aug. 16 address. “In addition, the College is getting an option to purchase the rest of the plot of land to within ten feet of the railroad land.”

While freshman Allison Bandeen said she hoped the Congregation might have instead used the land for something that would better benefit Saint Mary’s students – “maybe additional housing” – Mooney said the new construction would not hinder plans for the building of a second Opus Hall, should the College “decide at some point to move forward with that plan.”

“Sister Joy O’Grady has been very collaborative in letting me know what the congregation is planning and, when I have had strong objections, she has acceded,” Mooney said in her College forum address.

College spokeswoman Melanie McDonald said while some questions were raised in regards to the hotel’s proximity to campus, the College and the Congregation have “worked well together” to “preserve the integrity of the land.”

Those questions are becoming more vocalized, however, as the first stages of construction are visible to students. Many trees have been cut down on campus near the construction site to accommodate for the new utility poles. Mooney said O’Grady reassured her that all trees would be replaced

But senior Erin Bergman was concerned to see the trees removed and, like other students, worried the Hilton will not have the same “separation from campus” that the Inn at Saint Mary’s does.

Senior Allison Frane said the architecture of the hotel might ” distract from the beauty of our campus.”

“Even with the Inn at Saint Mary’s there I feel safe, however with another hotel near campus I am not sure if I will feel safe walking freely around campus,” she said. “There could be random people around at all hours of the day.”

“The hotel might take away from the campus,” freshman Amy Nitchman said. “It doesn’t seem like something that is typically associated with [Saint Mary’s].”

While students echoed concerns regarding the location of the Hilton, sophomore Beth Alexander said the hotel would serve a “good purpose for orientation and football weekends.”

“It will make things different around here and change our campus, but I guess the good and bad aspects will depend on the type of guests that stay there,” she said.

Freshman Brittany Ceglarek, however, was not pleased with the Congregation’s decision given the current hotel choices present in the area.

“There are already enough hotels on 9-33, and this one seems to be too close to campus,” she said.