The proposal to build a hotel in the Olmstead lot across from Barnes & Noble is closer to becoming a reality. During last Tuesday’s Student Government Association (SGA) meeting, Alan Fish, Vice President of Real Estate and Campus Services, introduced plans for a new hotel that would be part of a larger initiative to revitalize business in Charles Village and also enhance the lives of Hopkins’s students through the growth of the surrounding community.
Sophomore Jensen Reiter, a senator who attended the SGA meeting, recalled the excitement he and his fellow student leaders felt at the prospect of a truly vibrant Charles Village.
“There is a picture of what it’s going to look like and it has an awesome feel,” Reiter said. “It looks like a huge state school or a Big Ten university.”
The school also aims to minimize traffic flow throughout the campus and to make any traffic that must remain safe to students.
This will be implemented with the construction of more clearly marked and aesthetically pleasing brick crosswalks, as well as the elimination of 34th street and its replacement by a large, walk-through plaza.
Hopkins recognized the increasingly pronounced need for more buildings dedicated to establishing a student community after conducting a survey in January of last year and discovering that the most highly favored student hangout area is the library.
“On campus, the Mattin Center is going to be the highlight,” Reiter said. “It is going to be a spacious, glass building and serve the purpose of simply being a social hangout, which will aid in the formation of a true student community.”
The university hopes to develop its surroundings in conjunction with the renovation of its own campus, enriching the lives of those at the school exponentially.
Reiter explained what he and his fellow SGA members were told by Fish, last week.
“The hotel is not the highlight but a way to change the area for the better. The goal is that it will encourage the rest of the street to conform and build itself up since Hopkins only owns the lot and not a large portion of St. Paul,” Reiter said.
In this way, the hotel would act as a catalyst for the improvement of a much larger region, bringing much needed progress to surrounding schools and businesses.
Reiner shared his conviction that with a hotel, Charles Village may have just the impetus it needs to strengthen its retail market and lead to the growth of new businesses from there.
“I think that though there are downward spirals, there are upward spirals too and this hotel, by allowing the community to feed and grow off of it, could send the community into a tremendous upward spiral,” Reiner said.
The University has already been in contact with three third-party developers for the project, one of whom will be chosen in the next month. Hopkins hopes to commence construction shortly following this selection, however there are some doubts.
“The speed with which they begin is contingent upon the selection of a developer and the developer’s program but, from the insight I’ve gained having worked on construction projects, I think the soonest you will see things moving at the lot will be a year from now,” Salem Reiner, Associate Director of Economic Development in the Office of the President said.
Junior Dylan Gorman, a senator also present at last week’s SGA meeting stated his approval of the project and shared his belief that such a venture would be a monumental step toward the advancement of Charles Village.
“I think it’s a great idea and that the development will benefit the entire area, especially with the attraction of new restaurants,” Gorman said.
Though Hopkins ownsthe Olmstead Lot at this time, the school would not fund the project itself.
“Hopkins would be very involved in the process to make sure they approve of what is being built but the school would not fund it themselves because that would negatively affect its financial credibility,” Gorman said.
Instead, the construction of the hotel and retail stores below it would be paid for by a pre-approved third-party developer and the land of the Olmstead Lot would be rented from the university.
The addition of a new hotel situated in direct proximity to the Homewood campus will be one the first projects in a series that has been planned for the neighborhoods surrounding the school called the Homewood Community Partners Initiative. The school hopes that this hotel will be a large contributor with regard to the desired improvement.
“In general hotels are not just short-term ventures and they are located at places of positive activity, whether it be economic or social,” Reiner said. “Hotels open where there is long term positive momentum.”