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March 6, 2008

Plans for University Club detailed

Plans for a faculty and staff club and an employee-only recreation facility at the University Club are slowly taking shape, a Pitt official reported at Faculty Assembly Feb. 26.

“The University has started renovation on the University Club, a $20 million project with a number of components,” said Eli Shorak, associate vice chancellor for Business. “Demolition is beginning inside right now, and at this time next year, hopefully, the University Club should be open for business.”

Built in 1923, the eight-story former private club, located at 123 University Place, was purchased by Pitt in 2005 for $3.1 million.

In addition to a 4,000-square-foot faculty and staff club and 4,000-square-foot fitness and recreation center, the renovated University Club will include a 12,000-15,000-square-foot conference center, a banquet facility, 4,000-square-foot kitchen, a coffee shop and 8,000 square feet of offices.

Floors 5-8 will be leased to Family House, a nonprofit group that provides housing for families of hospital patients undergoing long-term treatment for serious medical conditions.

(See Jan. 10 University Times.)

“My charge was basically that this building was not to be funded by the E&G (education and general) budget,” Shorak said. “This is an auxiliary function, meaning that everything in the building has to be self-sufficient. Everything we do must bring in income to at least break even, so the membership for the faculty/staff club — although I haven’t set exact numbers until we have some more information — will be dues-driven, as will membership for the recreation center.”

Shorak added that the club and fitness center will have separate yearly membership fees, but that a reduced combined fee probably will be available for those faculty or staff who want to join both.

Though fees have not been set, he said Pitt is sensitive to making club and recreation center memberships affordable.

“The last thing I want to do is to have dues that discourage membership. My goal is to have a very high level of activity,” he said. “For the faculty/staff club, I’m hoping to have 400 members; I’d love to have 1,000 members.”

Shorak said he held focus groups and met with the dean’s council and the Senate’s plant utilization and planning committee to gather information on what people expected of a faculty and staff club.

“What came out of that was to provide quality dining, meeting and lounge facilities in a club atmosphere,” he said. “The idea is to have a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. It’s informal, a place where people can meet casually, or bring a student in as a guest.”

Balancing space that meets the needs and desires of faculty and staff while maintaining the elegance and grandeur of the University Club, which has a historical feeling to it, is a challenge, Shorak said. “The grand lobby will remain. The lounge area on the first floor will all be renovated,” he said.

The three main components of the members-only club are the University Club’s library and the College Room (both located on the first floor) and the Fraternity Grill (located on the second floor), Shorak said.

“The library is a very unique, comfortable room. It will be casual, but the ambiance will be academic. We’ll have periodicals available and different things of that sort. We’re planning for a year away, so I’ll have a lot more to say this fall when we start recruiting for the club,” Shorak said.

“In the College Room, we’re adding a pantry and relocating the bar, and expanding the area out to let some natural light in,” he said. “In the evenings members can come for a cocktail, or just come and sit and have conversations with fellow faculty or staff.”

The Fraternity Grill will be available for members’ lunches and dinners, he said.

The club initially will be open only to current faculty and staff, although members may bring in family or guests. “Nothing is out of the question for the future, like opening it up to retirees or alumni [membership], but for now we’re keeping it for current faculty and staff. We’re also not looking at programmatic space; it’s more fine dining, a bar area, a recreation area, a coffee shop and meals that individuals can enjoy rather than departmental groups,” Shorak said. There will not be a sliding-scale fee schedule, he added.

“As we get closer to completing the renovation, we’ll open it up for tours,” Shorak said. “What will recruit people is to see it, to see the facilities; the building itself will be the selling point.”

The fitness center, which will be located in the basement of the building, will accommodate separate areas for aerobics, strength and exercise equipment and locker rooms, he said.

“We’re looking to hire a professional third party, the YMCA, to operate the center for us,” Shorak said. “They’ve done a lot of corporate facilities throughout the city and have done a very nice job. They’ll have professionals there to take care of training, make sure everybody is safe at all times. What we’re really saying is this is not just a room to go work out, but will be very similar to state-of-the-art health clubs in the area.”

Shorak said he is having discussions with other University officials to help ensure that the fitness center will complement other fitness facilities on campus.

Other features of the renovated University Club building will include:

• A first-floor Starbucks-type coffee shop open to the public.

• Banquet facilities on the second floor, open to the public, suited for wedding receptions and other large gatherings.

• Second- and third-floor small and large meeting or break-out rooms, available to the University and outside communities.

• Also open to the public, the restored roof terrace, where, weather permitting, dining will be available.

• Wireless Internet access throughout the building.

• Renovated space to accommodate the Office of Research, now located in Thackeray Hall.

• Flexible conference facilities to accommodate up to 300 people.

“A primary driving component of the building will be a conference center,” Shorak said. “While we have a lot of meeting rooms on campus, the University has lacked a professional conference center for some time.”

Pitt is hiring Sodexho’s conferencing division to provide full conference services on a one-stop basis, he said. “If anyone wants to host a conference, have a meeting or host a luncheon, Sodexho will have professionals ready to assist you in the planning. Right now, to hold a conference, it seems like you have to run to a number of different places, and we’re trying to consolidate that.”

Although no sleeping facilities are available (other than those leased to Family House), Sodexho can help with arranging overnight accommodations for out-of-towners, Shorak said.

The conference facilities will have state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment and will include catering services when requested, he added.

—Peter Hart

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