Difficulty scheduling and hosting conferences is one of President Stanley’s favorite reasons for why Stony Brook should build a five-story Hilton hotel on campus, located next to the main entrance. But after a quick chat with a local hotel and the Office of Conferences and Special Events (CSE), it seems like conferences are far easier to hold than the president lets on.
According to their calendar of events, the CSE has a hand in planning 12 events from now until the end of the semester, and not every conference held on campus passes through their office.
According to Vaughn Lombardo, a receptionist for the CSE, there are many more conferences than what is listed on the calendar. “A lot of times, we only know about events because we handle the parking.” The News Literacy Conference, set to be held in mid-March, is one such example.
While the size of conferences, and therefore the amount of hotel rooms that need to be booked and the amount of space needed for them, varies greatly, it’s the larger events that tend to cause more stress among campus officials.
I-CON is a perfect example of how the university handles a large conference on campus. The large convention is broken up and placed in the SAC, the Wang Center, and even the Union. It’s not ideal, but it works.
In fact, the only time of year that Lombardo says her department can’t find enough space on campus or in surrounding hotels to book a conference with proper notice is graduation. Like every other office in SUNY that doesn’t have a student-run hotel on campus, Stony Brook’s CSE has to reach out to the community for lodging.
The Holiday Inn, the only major hotel in the Stony Brook area, does the most business for the university. Their other branch location near MacArthur is the only other large hotel that the CSE refers clients to. The site also links to Danford’s and the Three Village Inn, two smaller local establishments.
The Holiday Inn offers free transportation to and from the campus, but certainly not on a large scale. They can transport 16 guests to campus at a time, a number that is more helpful that it looks given the five minute drive between the two locations.
Lenore Paprocky, Director of Sales at the Stony Brook Holiday Inn, discussed the logistics of booking a conference.
If Stony Brook University called asking to book a conference, Paprocky said that the Holiday Inn would block up to 80% of their rooms. They also offer special rates to those involved with the university.
The hotels along the LIE, which are only 20 minutes away from the campus by car, represent another choice for conference guests to stay, provided they drove or rented a car.
Regardless of which hotel they decided to book, both Lombardo and Paprocky recommended that those looking to hold a conference at Stony Brook should ask hotels to set aside rooms a year in advance.
To test if that held true, I asked Paprocky if she could set aside a weekend in April, 2012. After checking the schedule, she said that Stony Brook could have any of them.
There were a couple of caveats. The first is that rooms not reserved within 2 months will be slowly released back into the public, so guests need to know if they are attending well in advance. The second is that the hotel does more business in the summer months and could release rooms more quickly than normal.
Stony Brook doesn’t have to worry about the summer and winter months as much because the residence halls are open. The website advertises 600 beds as being available when students are not living in them.
The proposed on-campus hotel will have 135 rooms, a few less than the nearby Holiday Inn. Since the hotel will be privately owned, it will operate just like the surrounding hotels. Not every room will be open for the benefit of conference goers and students’ relatives.
The Hilton’s focus will be to make a profit, just like any other surrounding hotel. That means that a friendly relationship with Stony Brook is helpful, but not the only priority.
Despite the competition that her place of employment may face as a result, Paprocky is all for the new hotel. “I think that Dr. Stanley is right about building conference space, because from what I understand that’s the problem. If he wants to build some hotel space on top of that, then he should go ahead.”
The proposed hotel contains a 5,000 square-foot conference space. But what exactly does 5,000 sq. ft. do for the university’s ability to host events?
As it turns out, not much. The Wang Center, most of which is off-limits to students, is much larger. Jasmine, the popular Asian restaurant located within it, is located in an 8,300 sq. ft. room and is available for private events. SAC Ballroom A, which can seat 460 guests at tables in front of projection screens, is also a better option. I-CON would still have to be divided between buildings.
Not to mention, the hotel’s conference space wouldn’t be controlled by SUNY or Stony Brook. In fact, the university would have to pay to use it.
When the university needs to hold a truly large gathering, it can always turn to its athletic facilities for a day. When former President Bill Clinton paid a visit this past October, 2,500 students and community members easily compressed themselves into half of the floor and a third of the available bleachers.
And the graduation ceremonies that have been going on for decades aren’t about to get any bigger thanks to the new enrollment cap. If the university and the surrounding hotels can handle graduation, they can probably handle a few conferences.