Kirkwood hotel makes a profit while educating students

"The mission is not, ‘How much profit can we generate?’”

Erin Jordan
Published: April 2 2014 | 3:30 am - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:03 pm in

Most hospitality arts students at Kirkwood Community College will never work in a hotel quite as posh or unique as the one where they do their training.

That’s because the Hotel at Kirkwood Center, which turned a profit for the first time last year, spares virtually no expense in order to provide students with a top-of-the-line educational experience.

“The mission is not, ‘How much profit can we generate?’,” said John Henik, associate vice president for academic affairs. “We need to meet our expenses, but we don’t need a 20 percent profit margin.”

The $31 million hotel, at 7725 Kirkwood Blvd. SW, opened in July 2010. That year, the hotel’s expenses exceeded revenue by $1.3 million. The deficit shrank to $446,000 in fiscal 2012. In its third year, ending last June, the hotel made about $50,000.

The hotel’s room occupancy was 66.88 percent in fiscal 2013, which was above the 59.9 percent average for all Cedar Rapids hotels queried by STR, a Tennessee-based company that tracks the hotel industry.

The 71-room Hotel at Kirkwood Center, with ultra-modern décor, gourmet restaurant and 4-Diamond rating from AAA, would be right at home in a major city. Instead, it sits on the south end of the Kirkwood campus with views of school buses passing to and from the College Community School District and galloping horses at the Iowa Equestrian Center.

There are about 300 students enrolled this spring in culinary arts & baking pastry arts, restaurant management and hotel management. These students, most working toward two-year degrees, are required to do between 144 and 520 hours of clinical training.

“Steven, would you come over here please?” Banquet Chef Anthony Green called to a young man in floppy white chef’s toque.

Steve Colsch, 20, of New Albin, smiled nervously, wiped his hands on a cloth and walked over to Green.

“Steven, please tell these people what happened yesterday,” said Green, a towering Jamaican man.

“I burned five gallons of roasted red pepper alfredo sauce,” Colsch said.

Green laughed, patting Colsch on the back.

“He knows that sauce cost $26 because he priced it out,” Green said. “It’s all a learning experience.”

Colsch is one of 12 second-year students who planned and prepared a dinner for about 450 people at Prairie Fest, a fundraiser for College Community. The ‘80s themed menu include “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” smoked pork shoulder, “Heat of the Moment” chunky potato chipotle soup and “Back in Black” blackened fish.

In addition to catering, students learn and practice housekeeping, laundry, front office management, service techniques and purchasing, receiving & inventory.

“I picked Kirkwood because of its culinary department and the hands-on training,” said Christina Meyer, a 30-year-old Cedar Rapids resident who wants to open a coffee shop someday.

Meyer and ten other students wearing gray jackets and black ties were learning from Bill Konigsmark how to carry plate-laden trays on their shoulders.

Konigsmark is an example of the uncommon staffing at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center. Part of his salary as banquet captain is paid by the hotel, but because Konigsmark teaches students, part of his pay comes directly from the college.

The hotel must have a larger staff because of the dual duties performed by many. But that allows the Hotel at Kirkwood Center to boast online of a one-to-one employee-to-guest ratio.

No student tuition or tax money is used for the hotel, which is intended to be a self-supporting enterprise. But, like other enterprises, such as the college book store, if the hotel runs a deficit, Kirkwood will cover the losses, CFO Jim Choate said.

Payment on revenue bonds sold to pay for the project is included in the hotel’s expenses.

The hotel includes nearly every bell and whistle, except a swimming pool.

Green technology, such as geothermal heating and cooling and range hoods that sense steam or smoke, is used throughout the hotel and educational center. The laundry room has folding machines, typically used only in larger hotels.

Some might say the Hotel at Kirkwood Center sets unrealistic expectations of graduates, but General Manager Lee Belfield put it differently. The hotel, which was Belfield’s brainchild, shows students what they can strive for in the real world.

“I’ve always believed you should teach only best practices,” Belfield said. “As a hotelier, if you know how to do things right, you can adjust to the needs of your market.”

Hotel at Kirkwood Center

  • 71 guest rooms
  • 66.88 percent occupancy for fiscal 2013
  • 19,000 square feet of meeting space
  • 150,000 square feet in hotel and educational center
  • 520 hours of clinical experience required for hotel management students

 

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