10 Years and More Than 200,000 Guests Later

The Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center celebrates a decade of hospitality

This summer, the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center hosted a birthday party with food, drinks and live music to celebrate 10 years of serving the city of Kent and the Kent State University community.

VIPs at the hotel's 10th birthday party.

From left: Jerry Fiala, mayor of Kent; David Schoeffler, general manager, Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center; Valoree Vargo, vice president, Kent State Division of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement and CEO, Kent State University Foundation; and Todd Diacon, president, Kent State. 

Since the hotel opened, it has welcomed an average of 20,000-22,000 guests per year from across the U.S. and around the world. It also has hosted hundreds of corporate meetings and conferences, as well as wedding receptions, university symposia and other Kent State events. The location is the hotel of choice for Kent State University Athletics and also has hosted overflow from Kent State student housing at the beginning of some semesters.

Hotel groundbreaking in 2011.

Hotel groundbreaking, Sept. 19, 2011.

A TransformativeBeginning

Hotel construction took less than two years, from groundbreaking ceremonies on Sept. 19, 2011, to its grand opening on June 14, 2013. The hotel became an anchor institution in the transformation of downtown Kent.

Hotel construction in 2012.

The hotel’s opening was especially beneficial to the city of Kent as prior to its opening visitors to Kent had nowhere to stay overnight. The nearest places for lodging were in Brimfield, at the intersection of I-76 and State Route 43 or in Aurora, Streetsboro or Cuyahoga Falls.

Hotel ribboncutting 2013.

Hotel ribbon-cutting ceremony, June 14, 2013

“This meant that any visitor to Kent or the university had to travel in and out of town daily,” said Lawrence Carter, Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center asset manager, Kent State University Foundation in Kent State’s Division of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement. “It hindered their ability to fully enjoy our community.”

“The hotel serves as the living room for our community in welcoming guests. With its location downtown and at the front door of campus, visitors are able to enjoy all the benefits that campus and downtown have to offer, in a walkable environment.” – Lawrence Carter

Carter has been working with the hotel from its beginning. He said that opening in a period of rapid growth had its own challenges for the hotel. All four corners of the intersection of Erie and Depeyster Streets were redeveloping at the same time and were interdependent on each other. Carter said that this showed “true town and gown” since everyone needed to work together to succeed.

Hotel and university - drone shot

Incalculable Economic Impact

Adding a hotel to a city where there was not one before was a boost to Kent’s economy. Income from room bookings and employment at the hotel (estimated at about 2,000 employees over the past 10 years) all figure into that boost. But there’s more. David Schoeffler, the hotel’s general manager, arrived in 2019. Born and raised in Cleveland, Schoeffler has extensive experience in the hospitality industry, working in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Cleveland for Hyatt Hotels, Intercontinental Hotels and Hilton Hotels.

Hotel presidential suite balcony

He said the hotel’s economic contribution to Kent is two-fold. “Over the past 10 years, with more than 200,000 people staying here, those 200,000 plus people have spent a couple of days, spending money in the city of Kent,” said Schoeffler. “You could never put a number on it, but if you run averages, it could be quite a large figure. We also have non-guest visitors, like conference visitors, who spend money in town while they visit. That’s the first impact.

Meeting room at the hotel

“Second impact,” Schoeffler said, “is that it gets the city of Kent’s name out there. Having a nice, full-service hotel in the city really bodes well for anybody coming in from Columbus, Pittsburgh or the Cleveland area.”

Mary Kline is the director of sales and catering for the hotel, said “The Bed Tax dollars we collect go to Destination Kent, to help support bringing guests to Kent for their travel, work, school or play.”

Balloons and champagne at hotel birthday party

A Valuable Venue

Kline joined the hotel’s team in 2017. She sees the hotel as a bridge between the university, the Kent community and the businesses of downtown Kent. By her count, the hotel has hosted more than 4,000 Kent State events, weddings and corporate engagements in the past 10 years. In its best year, before the COVID-19 epidemic, the hotel hosted 515 events.

“When events and groups started canceling (in 2020), it was a punch in the gut,” said Kline.

In 2021, event bookings increased and are currently close to pre-pandemic totals.

Mary Kline - KSU hotel

“My vision is to make us the place to stay for those who live in Kent, work in Kent, play in Kent and learn in Kent.” – Mary Kline

Schoeffler said that, as a venue, balancing the needs of the university with the local community is important. “We found that the demand for the hotel from the local, corporate market and community was very high,” he said. “Balancing that can be challenging because we want to take care of our owners [the university], but at the same time, we want to achieve their financial goals. And we do that by being a big part of the community and being able to be a venue for social events, weddings, baby showers and things like that.”

Hotel ballroom set for a wedding

Connected to the Community

Kevin Walker is the director of operations for Olympia Companies, the hospitality management company that manages the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center. It’s one of 10 hotels he oversees. As part of his management responsibilities, he and the team at the hotel work with the university and organizations in Kent, like the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Kent to generate ideas that will bring visitors to Kent.

Kevin Walker, Olympia Companies

“Kent has been amazing to work with. They are probably the most active downtown community that we interact with. They’re always having festivals and other events. It’s really great.” – Kevin Walker

“That’s honestly, our No. 1 priority right now. We see ourselves as a ‘hotel of the community,’ but we want to bring in more community members on a regular basis to be able to experience and enjoy it,” he said. “We’re trying some specials with food and beverage programming with local musician and bands.”

Famous Guests

Celebrities visiting Kent who have stayed at the hotel include Steve Harvey, Dennis Quaid, Julian Edelman, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Kevin and Michael Bacon, along with fashion icons who visit during Kent State’s Fashion Week. Kline added that many of the musicians and bands that perform at The Kent Stage stay at the hotel.

Hotel angle view

The Busy Season

Kline and Schoeffler say that the busiest times of year for the hotel are around university events like move-in weekends, parents’ weekends, homecoming and commencements. The nights that the city of Kent hosts music festivals are also busy. There are corporate events at the hotel all year, and “a lot of weddings in the fall” and “a ton of holiday parties and social events in December,” they added.

Hotel Restaurant Nineteen10

What’s Next

Right now, the hotel is planning for renovation in 2025 and 2026. “It will start in the lobby area,” said Schoeffler. “We’ll be redoing the restaurant, along with all the meeting spaces. And then we’ll get up to the guest rooms and modernize the hotel – since it has been over 10 years.”

“Overall? Working with the hotel has been an incredible experience. It’s truly a downtown hotel without all the complications of large, metropolitan areas like Cleveland or Pittsburgh. The sense of community here is very strong – and we love being part of it.” – David Schoeffler.

Pearl the Squirrel at the hotel

"Pearl the Squirrel" welcomes visitors to the lobby of the hotel. 

POSTED: Wednesday, August 30, 2023 02:22 PM
Updated: Thursday, August 31, 2023 04:41 PM
Phil B. Soencksen