The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center has been open only five years, yet it seems right at home on the southwest edge of the Virginia Tech campus.
“It looks like we have been here for years, but it will be just 5 years old tomorrow,” said general manager Gary Crizer in July. “When you drive up, there is a great sense of arrival. It almost looks like a castle.”
Credit the native limestone called Hokie stone used to face the hotel, conference center and adjoining Holtzman Alumni Center. There are 2,741 tons of it — 82,236 cut stones to be exact — more than any other building on campus.
A neo-Gothic-style tower, built of the same silvery stone, marks the spot where the alumni center and the conference center meet.
Hokie stone unifies campus
Every building on the campus uses Hokie stone in some fashion, an edict set down more than 25 years ago by the school’s governing body. It unifies the campus of the state’s largest university, blending new construction with old.
Although it fits in so well, the Inn at Virginia Tech and its conference center are a change in direction for the school, which for years operated its Donaldson Brown Hotel and conference center exclusively for Virginia Tech’s continuing education needs.
Now Donaldson Brown is a graduate center, and the Inn at Virginia Tech has become a public face of the university, a meeting facility marketed to both the public and the university.
Conference center part of outreach
“Because of the outreach initiative of the university, it made sense to enhance the hospitality aspect of the university by building a new conference-center facility,” said Crizer. “Not only are we here for the purpose of the university, we are also positioned to be a facility that goes after and is competing for all markets.”
The inn has made several moves professionally to get the attention of a new audience of meeting planners. The Skelton center is accredited by the International Association of Conference Centers, with all the bells and whistles that designation requires, such as ergonomic chairs, continuous break stations and complete meeting packages.
The facility is also professionally managed. Although owned by the university, Hilton Hotels Corp. operates the hotel and conference center. The Inn at Virginia Tech is not part of the Hilton Honors Program, however.
Hilton also manages the nearby Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center in Roanoke. That hotel is owned by the Virginia Tech Foundation; the conference center is owned by a separate commission.
Even as it is marketed to a broader audience, the Inn at Virginia Tech holds on to its Hokie roots, a logical move, since about 80 percent of business is university related, according to Crizer.
Designers make best of school colors
Interior designers, handed the Virginia Tech school colors of maroon and orange, made the challenging color palette work in carpets and furnishings throughout the 147-room hotel and the 23,700-square-foot conference center. “It was done so tastefully, yet it is actually Hokie-esque,” said Hunter Gresham, director of Virginia Tech’s office of special events, a regular client of the inn and conference center.
The alumni center, which is connected to the inn and conference center but also has its own entrance, helps preserve the connection. In addition to offices for alumni staff, the Holtzman center includes a Hokie museum, a living room, an art gallery and an auditorium that can be booked by meeting groups.
The alumni center “has a great interest to a lot of the meetings we have here,” said Crizer. “It allows guests to touch a little piece of the history of where they went to school.”
The layout of the complex allows it to serve different audiences. Entering the lobby, the hotel wing is to the right; the conference center and other public areas, including a lounge and Preston’s, the hotel restaurant, and the two-level conference center is to the left.
The center’s ballroom and an adjoining foyer are on the first level; 10 dedicated meeting rooms and a continuous break station are on the second level. Buffet breakfast and lunch are served in Preston’s; the restaurant offers menu service in the evenings.
Although the hotel has become quite popular for Hokie weddings, its primary purpose is to be a meeting place.
Meetings are first order of business
“We look at ourselves first as a meeting destination,” said Crizer.
The hotel’s meeting space is larger than needed for a typical 147-room hotel, but the disparity is intentional.
“That was by design,” said Teresa Hughes, director of sales. “The university felt it was important that whatever meeting business we attracted would be shared by the community, so the spillover for conferences is shared by our hotel competitors.”
There are well over 500 hotel rooms within a mile of the inn, including those in the 147-room Holiday Inn University across the street.
As director of the university’s special events office, Gresham plans many high-profile events, including fundraising events for the university’s development office.
Before the inn and conference center opened, the larger of those events were held in the student center, which wasn’t as good a fit as the Inn at Virginia Tech.
Since Gresham began using the inn for her events, “the profile and success of my events have increased, and the attendance has increased as well,” she said.
The events run the gamut: dinners for donor societies, receptions prior to speeches by big-name speakers, leadership conferences and traditional meetings with breakout sessions. “That is what I love about the facility. If it is a group of 50, they have the space; if it is a group of 500, they have a space,” Gresham said.
The inn can also help planners move their meetings and events beyond the building’s walls.
Popular for groups with and without Virginia Tech ties are tailgating theme and other types of events at Lane Stadium, home to Hokies football, where 66,000 screaming fans have earned it recognition as one of college football’s loudest stadiums.
Some conferences have recruited head coach Frank Beamer as a speaker. “And the Hokie bird, the Virginia Tech mascot — well, we see him a lot,” said Hughes.
Groups have also dined under big tents erected on the drill field and on the lawn in front of the alumni center.
Inn guests can enjoy Dye golf course
And although the inn and conference center is not a resort, guests can make use of the university’s golf course. Purchased about six years ago by the school and redesigned by Pete Dye, the River Course runs along the New River about 15 minutes from the inn.
New there this summer is a clubhouse with event space for 150, adjoined by a large deck overlooking the river. Crizer is sure it will be in demand for groups that have golf outings.
Gresham appreciates the staff’s understanding of both her events and its connections to the university campus. Before Hughes joined the inn’s staff, she had worked at the Donaldson Brown hotel for eight years.
“It is so nice to have a facility that understands what we are trying to accomplish, and that is beautiful, has audio-visual and the catering that our events require,” said Gresham. “It is nice to have it all come together. It is a warm and welcoming place, which is why it has resonated with so many Hokies and with Blacksburg.”