UCLA unveils plans for state-of-the-art conference and guest center on campus
By Steve Ritea November 01, 2011
Campus officials today announced new plans to advance UCLA's academic mission by building a centrally located conference and guest center where faculty and students can exchange ideas with scholars from across the globe.
The proposed seven-story building would be located at the end of Westwood Plaza on 4.5 acres currently occupied by Parking Structure 6. Plans call for 25,000 square feet of meeting space and 250 guest rooms, which would be reserved for those attending conferences or having business with the university. Complete details are available at a website dedicated to the project.
No revenues from tuition or the state would be required.
A shortage of modern meeting space and overnight rooms on campus places UCLA at a disadvantage when competing with other top-tier universities for conferences, campus officials said.
Earlier this year, longtime UCLA supporters Meyer and Renee Luskin donated $100 million to the campus, the second largest gift ever received. Half of that was dedicated to the conference center.
"Enhancing UCLA's connection to the world beyond our campus's borders has always been one of my top priorities," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. "The Luskins share that vision and a commitment to UCLA that is truly remarkable. The Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center will enhance our global image as a destination for sharing the research that distinguishes UCLA faculty and students."
"UCLA is among the greatest universities in the world, and it gave me my start," Meyer Luskin said. "I wanted to give back in a creative and unique way that helps UCLA continue its important work with the broader community. In addition to educating students and conducting research, UCLA should help address society's biggest issues, and I'm proud to be part of that noble effort."
Pending project approval by the University of California Board of Regents, demolition of the parking structure and construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in the summer of 2013, with completion expected in winter 2016.
The university's previous proposal was to build the new center at the site of the current Faculty Center — a private club on the east side of campus operated by its own association and not the university — and to incorporate a new faculty center into the project. However, concerns from a number of faculty members with personal attachments to the existing structure prompted a thorough re-evaluation. That review included a survey of local neighborhoods, which found that neighbors had a very positive image of UCLA and that there was no widespread opposition to a conference center project.
"After a detailed study, we decided on a new location that does not compromise our vision for a conference and guest center," Block said. "This site has the added benefit of a central campus location, right off Westwood Plaza and close to UCLA icons like Pauley Pavilion and Ackerman Student Union."
The $152 million project will not utilize any state funds or student tuition. Rather, it will be funded by $40 million from the Luskins' gift and approximately $112 million in financing, to be paid off by the center's operating revenues. Another $10 million from the Luskins will serve as an endowment to assist academic departments in hosting conferences at the center after it opens.
Before work can begin, the project's design and budget, as well as an environmental impact report (EIR), require approval by the UC Regents. There will be opportunities for public comment throughout the process, including at a meeting scheduled for Monday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. in the Faculty Center's California Room to help determine the scope of the EIR.
Currently, when UCLA hosts a conference, most of those attending seek accommodations off campus. One of the nation's preeminent conference center and lodging consultants conducted a thorough analysis and found there is great demand for this project. The average occupancy rate for West Los Angeles hotels is over 75 percent and growing — the highest in the region. The current proposed room rate for the new center, based on today's market, is $185 per night, compared with average rates in the area that are well over $200.
An expanded turnabout in front of the new conference center will help ease traffic flow, furthering UCLA's commitment to minimize traffic impacts on campus. Last year, in fact, UCLA experienced its lowest traffic levels since record-keeping began over 20 years ago, even as traffic increased county-wide.
The conference center will also include 125 underground parking spaces. Although the plan calls for the demolition of Parking Structure 6, the central campus area has the highest density of parking, with ample spots available nearby in Parking Structures 4, 7 and 8.