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Thursday, Dec 8, 2022
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CSUN Campus Hotel

The California State University Board of Trustees has signed off on the construction of a 149-room Hilton Garden Inn hotel on the school’s Northridge campus, despite protests from a labor union. The board approved the long-in-the-works hotel project by a 20-1 vote. Rhode Island-based Corvias Group will develop the 82,000-square-foot hotel, with 1,000 square feet of meeting space as well as 128 parking spaces, intended to serve campus visitors and the surrounding market. Corvias will manage the construction with architectural studio Steinberg Hart and Rhode Island-based general contractor Gilbane, which has already been involved in more than 700 higher education projects nationally, including more than 75 for California State University institutions and more than 70 hospitality projects. Construction is expected to begin in June. The opening is projected for September 2021. Evolution Hospitality, which currently manages some 8,543 rooms at 41 hotels in California alone, will operate the hotel. DS Honda Construction founder David Honda, a member of the board of directors at California State University – Northridge, observed that there is a lack of marquee hotels near the CSUN campus, and major hotel brands such as Marriott, Raddison, Four Seasons, Hyatt and Hilton are spread out throughout the Valley in faraway places such as Woodland Hills and Burbank. “There’s no centralization,” he said. Originally, the school planned to build the hotel on north campus by Zelzah Avenue and Plummer Street. With this new direction, the Hilton Garden Inn will be located on 3.3 acres of land at the southeast corner of the campus at Matador Way and Nordhoff Street currently occupied by the Orange Grove Bistro. As a result, the eatery will close as a new campus restaurant and conference center will occupy part of the university’s Campus Bookstore Complex. Honda believes this iteration of the hotel plan seems viable, noting that the Steinberg-Hart architecture firm has already worked on other projects at CSUN and designed the former Northridge Post Office on Reseda Boulevard. “They’ve taken a good step forward,” Honda told the Business Journal. A boon to the project, Honda added, is one less development migraine regarding parking. “They’re utilizing the parking structure to the north,” Honda explained. “(Parking is) a huge expense with no income so for not having to build (a structure) is a huge economic success for the developer.” “The development of an on-campus hotel has been a long-term goal for CSUN, and we are excited to see the project moving forward,” CSUN President Dianne Harrison said in a statement. “As a public-private partnership, the hotel will provide valuable financial support for the university — at no cost to the state of California and no cost to our students. For too long, we have not had adequate hotel facilities near campus to serve our nearly 40,000 students, the scholarly activities of our talented faculty, vibrant Division I athletics programs, world-class Younes and Soraya Nazarian Performing Arts Center (a.k.a., the Soraya) and our surrounding community.” Union opposition Not everyone in the extended community has agreed with the university’s project. Kate Spear from Unite Here! Local 11 — a downtown Los Angeles union chapter that represents more than 30,000 workers employed in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas and convention center — voiced an objection at last month’s meeting as her organization questioned the need to build a hotel during an affordable housing shortage. Danielle Wilson, a representative of Unite Here!, told the Business Journal that she and her colleagues were disturbed by the selection of Corvias because the developer was one of five identified in a Reuters investigation of substandard military housing. In a December 2018 article about real estate developer John Picerne and his Corvias company, Reuters explained that Corvias is one of the largest private landlords on U.S. military bases. Since 2002, the company has acquired control of more than 26,000 houses and apartments across 13 military bases, but has been accused by tenants of providing homes “riddled with health hazards that can trigger illness or childhood developmental delays,” according to the report. At Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the United States, a tenant petition circulated to hold Corvias accountable for neglecting homes. The Reuters report prompted Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office to conduct a three-month investigation into five beneficiaries of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative. The investigation concluded that all five contractors — including Corvias — set up corporate structures that undermined accountability for substandard conditions in military housing as well as obfuscated tracking of the flow of funds, revenue and profits. Unite Here!’s Wilson quoted a tweet by Warren: “‘Corvias has failed to maintain the military homes they were entrusted with. Why should they be entrusted with providing a hotel for @csunnorthridge, especially while students face an affordable housing crisis?’” In a statement sent to the Business Journal, Unite Here! Local 11 said: “We urge the trustees of the California State University system to deny the proposed Hotel Development Agreement with Corvias at California State University – Northridge until we know what accountability measures exist to ensure that the developer will be truly responsible for funding, operating and maintaining the facility in good condition during the term of the lease.” University Corporation President Rick Evans said in a statement that he was aware of the media reports involving a variety of private military housing partners, including Corvias, but believes that the company demonstrated “their commitment as a valued and responsible private partner.” Honda theorized that the union chapter may be retaliating out of bitterness. “They didn’t get hired to do the janitorial,” he said. “They have an axe to grind.” Lengthy process The university has tried for decades to build a hotel, with a highly publicized iteration for a Hyatt in 2016. “This has been in discussion for many, many, many years,” Honda recalled. “There was supposed to be regional center back in 1998-1999.” The center was supposed to span from Zelzah to Lindley Avenue and from Lassen to Devonshire streets, but instead the school signed a 99-year lease with Medtronics, Honda said. He added that the university has been pondering establishing a hotel on campus “since the Soraya was built. They knew they needed some type of support.” The hotel has a few more bureaucratic rounds to hurdle before a ground-breaking can take place. “There’s a permit process they have to go through,” Honda said, speculating that it may take another year before the Orange Grove Bistro is closed and construction begins.

Michael Aushenker
Michael Aushenker
A graduate of Cornell University, Michael covers commercial real estate for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Prior to the Business Journal, Michael covered the community and entertainment beats as a staff writer for various newspapers, including the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Palisadian-Post, The Argonaut and Acorn Newspapers. He has also freelanced for the Santa Barbara Independent, VC Reporter, Malibu Times and Los Feliz Ledger.
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