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UMass Lowell buys downtown hotel and arena

Courtesy UMass Lowell

LOWELL, Mass. —  Under the ownership of  the University of Massachusetts Lowell, two primary meeting facilities in downtown Lowell have undergone major improvements in the past two years.

UMass Lowell bought the 252-room Doubletree Hotel from the Procaccianti Group of Rhode Island for $15 million in mid-2009. In January 2010, it took over the city-owned Tsongas Arena, exchanging some downtown property and $1 for it.

The school bought the hotel because it needed a place to house its growing student population. Enrollment at UMass Lowell has increased 20 percent since 2007. The university bought the arena because its sports teams needed their own home.

During the school year, the hotel, now the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center, is used primarily to house 400 upperclassmen, honors and foreign students. Thirty-one inn-style rooms have been set aside for public use throughout the year, and in the summertime, almost all of the hotel’s rooms are available for public use.

Set next to the city’s historic canals, the hotel has about 8,000 square feet of meeting space, including a canal-side outdoor area.

Immediately after it bought the hotel, the university spent about $4 million to renovate it. Other improvements have been made, including the addition of a restaurant and lounge.

The university also upgraded telephone, sound and video systems, installed wireless Internet access throughout the building, converted some meeting space to a dining hall and added a separate entrance for students.

Since early in the university’s takeover, staff have been working to boost meeting business. One small training meeting for a company based in Colorado enjoyed the experience so much that it canceled reservations for a conference it was to hold in Boston and rebooked the UMass Lowell Inn.

UMass Lowell made $5 million in improvements to the 13-year-old arena, which it renamed the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell. Among the additions is the 4,800-square-foot Lowell Cooperative Bank Pavilion, which has seating, a bar, a restaurant, views of the arena floor and plasma televisions. A new sound system with 60 speakers was also installed in the arena along with cameras to feed images to a new scoreboard.

The center will be used for the school’s ice hockey team’s games as well as conventions, trade shows, concerts and campus ceremonies, such as commencements.

It can seat 6,500 fans for hockey and up to 7,800 for concerts and has 30,000 square feet of exhibit space and a lawn along the Merrimack River.

Catering for the center will be provide by Aramark. Global Spectrum is managing the building.

Among the sports events that have booked at the arena since the university took over is the George Bossi Lowell Holiday Wrestling Tournament, the Colonial Classic synchronized-figure-skating competition, several Massachusetts cheerleading competitions and the Bay State Marathon.

Some new events at the Tsongas include the first-ever Holiday Hoop Slam, which showcased Lowell and Andover high schools’ basketball teams in competition, along with UMass Lowell’s men’s and women’s basketball teams taking on counterparts from Merrimack College.