RMU Moon seeks to turn hotel into dormitory

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Robert Morris University is asking Moon to amend its zoning ordinance to permit dormitories as a conditional use to accommodate housing students in the Holiday Inn Pittsburgh Airport on University Boulevard.

In addition to guests, the hotel has three floors of students occupying 69 of its 256 rooms. Last fall, RMU purchased the building, which is less than a mile from campus.

Dormitories are not permitted within the highway commercial zoning district along University Boulevard, according to Moon assistant manager Adam McGurk. He said the township views the students as guests.

The university purchased the hotel at a sheriff's sale for about $10.2 million according to the Allegheny County Office of Property Assessments website.

Lafe Metz, an attorney with Buchanan Ingersol & Rooney PC who is representing the university , in the request said RMU does not intend to buy property on University Boulevard, but that it wants to expand student housing on campus.

The Holiday Inn has filed for a partial tax exemption because three floors are being used to house students. The property is assessed at $7 million, which would amount to $22,500 in township taxes, $146,118 in school taxes and $32,173 in county taxes, if paid at the discounted rate.

Mr. Metz said the university was interested in paying a fee, which they call a "pilot plan" to Moon in lieu of taxes. That is what it has done with its sports complex on Neville Island. Moon officials will meet with RMU representatives July 17 to talk about a number of issues, including the pilot plan.

Meanwhile, RMU has entered into a contract through 2014 with Prospera Hospitality of Green Tree, a management company.

The facility will continue to serve as a hotel and RMU has made cosmetic improvements to comply with Holiday Inn branding requirements, according to RMU's senior director of public relations, Jonathan Potts.

The restaurant known as Bridges may have a name change, but it remains open to the public, along with meeting rooms, the Iron City Grille and banquet space. There are no plans to add a student cafeteria, but students who live there have been able to use their meal plan dollars to purchase food at the hotel.

Mr. Potts said one of the attractions of the property is that it includes 17 acres, which could be space for intramural playing fields for club sports teams. He said those plans are tentative. He said the university has no plans to convert the hotel into a school for hospitality, tourism management.

"Our hospitality and tourism management program is already part of our School of Business, and that will not change," Mr. Potts said. "We do believe that the hotel and conference space will provide plenty of opportunities for students in the program to get real-world experience."

neigh_west

Kim Lawrence, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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