NAU to open hospitality school at Gateway Airport | News

By Scott Shumaker, GSN Staff Writer
6 Min Read

Earlier this month, the president of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council told Mesa business leaders that the area surrounding Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is first in the nation for vertical industrial buildings.

The industrial building boom is seen as a mixed blessing by many residents, helping to grow the local economy but also leaving them and District 6 Councilman Scott Somers seeking greater diversity – especially more hospitality.

The latest groundbreaking at Gateway Airport last week promises some relief for them as officials celebrated the start of a project that will bring Northern Arizona University’s School for Hospitality Workforce Development, a ground-floor restaurant and coffee shop and a new office building.

Gateway Airport President Brian O’Neill said the office, school and restaurant will be “a wonderful addition to the airport area.”

The two-building mixed-use campus at Sossaman Road and Velocity Way – part of the 360-acre SkyBridge master development – will feature two 18,000-square-foot buildings. A 129-room dual brand hotel is planned nearby.

SkyBridge President Ariel Picker said he wasn’t sure about the hospitality project when it was first brought to him, since the development in the southwest corner of the airport is oriented toward international freight and the semiconductor industry.

But he said he came around.

“This really adds value to the community versus those other projects,” he said to a burst of applause, predicting the hospitality school would increase quality of life in the community.

“A good chef is more valuable than anything,” he said.

One of the buildings is already fully leased. Kind Hospitality is taking the first floor to use as a restaurant and coffee shop, and NAU is taking the second floor for its Mesa Workforce Development Center, part of the W.A. Franke College of Business.

NAU plans to open the school this fall.

The second building is earmarked for Class A office space.

Somers has been keen to see more office development in his district because he is convinced offices will be important for the future economy despite current reduced demand due to remote and hybrid work.

SkyBridge General Manager Will Mosley told the airport board last week that the company has already fielded interest in the office space.

Kind Hospitality is familiar to the airport and NAU: It is the master concessionaire at the airport terminal and operates dozens of restaurants across the country. Its CEO, Nava Singam, is a graduate of NAU’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management.

Kind Hospitality purchased the Macayo’s Mexican restaurant brand in 2019 and has franchise and license relationships with many other eateries, including Panera Bread and Native Grill and Wings. Last year it opened the Fazoli’s restaurant at Mesa Riverview.

A spokeswoman for Kind wouldn’t give details for the food and beverage component in the SkyBridge development, except to say it will be a full-service restaurant and specialty coffee and tea shop.

Kind is subleasing the upper story to NAU, and Singam expressed enthusiasm for the partnership, saying he’s seen first-hand the need for more hospitality training programs.

NAU’s satellite hospitality school is a potentially big hand-up for Mesa in its quest for expanding retail and dining in the southeast portion of the city.

Visit Mesa’s 10-year master plan, released late last year, ranked inadequate hospitality workforce “among the most severe” challenges to Mesa building out its tourism economy.

NAU’s school may help alleviate the deficit as it seeks to pump out skilled professionals able to take on roles in hotels and restaurants – or start their businesses.

At the Mesa campus, NAU will offer four-year degrees in hotel & restaurant management and hospitality leadership, plus several professional certificates and non-credit training programs.

Students with an associate’s degree from a community college can transfer in up to 90 credits toward the hospitality leadership degree.

The university also envisions the Mesa Workforce Development Center partnering with hotel and restaurant groups to create custom training and professional development. NAU’s website also invites the public to use the school to satisfy personal interests in baking, cooking and wine.

Galen Collins, executive director of NAU’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, said local students would be able to take all of the coursework needed for the four-year degrees at the Mesa campus — without having to travel to Flagstaff.

Collins said at the groundbreaking that the school would “empower individuals to thrive in the post-pandemic world.”

NAU Provost Karen Pugliesi said making higher education accessible in a location where it’s needed fits with the university’s vision of being an “engine of opportunity.”

But why southeast Mesa out of all the potential places in the state for NAU’s hospitality school?

“With economic growth comes hospitality, too – hotels and restaurants,” Collins said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on” nearby, like Arizona Athletic Grounds.

At the same time, Mesa has a workforce gap in hospitality, and NAU believes it can help fill it, Collins said.

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By Scott Shumaker, GSN Staff Writer , – Vivrr Local Results in news of type article , 2024-03-28 07:00:00
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