University News

UC Board of Regents approves financing for proposed UCLA conference center

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[July 18 update: The full Board of Regents unanimously approved the financial plan.]
 
The University of California Board of Regents’ Committee on Grounds and Buildings today approved UCLA’s financial plan for the proposed Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center on the Westwood campus. The full board is expected to vote Wednesday.
 
"I am confident that you will agree that this project is vital for UCLA, that it has a solid business plan and that it is the best alternative to meet UCLA's goals," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block told the committee. "Our goals are to foster the exchange of ideas, contribute to the preeminence of UCLA as one of the world’s great research universities and allow UCLA to compete with other top-tier institutions for major academic conferences."
 
conference-center-imageThe center would be constructed at the center of campus on property currently occupied by Parking Structure 6, utilizing part of a gift from alumni and longtime supporters Meyer and Renee Luskin. The proposed seven-story building would include 25,000 square feet of meeting space and 250 guest rooms. Complete details are available at a website dedicated to the project.
 
The financial plan approved by regents conservatively assumes UCLA would achieve 70 percent occupancy by the third year, in line with the high rates enjoyed by area commercial hotels. A room rate of $185, based on today’s market conditions and not including conference fees or other costs, assures affordability. The Luskin Conference and Guest Center would be self-sustaining, officials stressed, not utilizing any state funds or tuition revenue.
 
Campus officials noted that a previous proposal that had included creating a new Faculty Center has been scaled back in size and cost, with a new location shrinking the footprint of the building, partly since it would not need to make space for a new faculty center. The efficient design would make it easier to construct and maintain.
 
The UCLA Academic Senate’s Council on Planning and Budget also recently reviewed the same documents as the regents, determining that the financing model is sound and that UCLA could benefit from additional conference space and affordable guest rooms.
 
UCLA officials said more than 300 hotel rooms have been eliminated from the Westwood market over the past 15 years or so and over 500 additional rooms will be eliminated in the future, following planned redevelopments at several major area hotels.
 
The center would not compete with local hotels for tourists and other business travelers because guests must have business with the university in order to book a room, similar to policies at the UCLA Guest House and Tiverton House, which offer a combined 161 rooms and are frequently at or near capacity.
 
The project would help UCLA compete with other top-tier universities for conferences, officials said. Numerous faculty expressed the longstanding need for such a facility at a recent hearing on the project’s draft Environmental Impact Report. Many further described the challenge of finding affordable rooms and meeting space on campus in a recent UCLA Magazine article.
 
A variety of alternate sites was considered, but the location at Parking Structure 6 was ultimately found to be the most cost-effective, without having any substantial impact on parking, which is ample in that section of campus.
 
The project will be funded by $40 million of a previously announced gift from the Luskins, both longtime UCLA supporters, and approximately $112 million in financing. Officials said the financing would have minimal impact on UCLA’s long-term debt.
 
In September, the regents will be asked to consider final design plans for the project along with a final environmental impact report that was prepared with public input at two hearings on campus over the past year. Pending final approvals, construction would begin around summer of 2013, with completion expected by 2016.
 
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