Meet ‘wonderful’ at conference center open house

Conference building
High Country Conference Center
A June 21 open house will celebrate the High Country Conference Center with tours and refreshments. Photos by Tom Alexander.

The NAU community is invited to an open house celebrating the High Country Conference Center at Flagstaff, a culmination of more than three years of intensive planning and cooperation.

The celebration is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 21, at the conference center, located on north campus. Refreshments and tours will be available throughout the celebration.

“We’re hoping everyone will come see the first-class facility they helped make possible,” said NAU President John Haeger. “This is a beautiful project, and so far it has proved very successful. It would not have been possible without the support of the NAU faculty staff and students, our partners and all of the Flagstaff community.”

The conference center, which uses the slogan “Where Work Meets Wonderful,” is a partnership among Northern Arizona University, the city of Flagstaff, Drury Hotels and Sodexo Conferencing. It was conceived in late 2004 by Haeger, who saw the conference center as an economic generator for northern Arizona and a cultural and educational asset to NAU students, faculty and staff.

“NAU is a steward of place in Flagstaff and in areas throughout the state,” Haeger said. “We are a dominant economic engine, and we can make things happen that would not ordinarily happen.”

The conference center and adjoining hotel are designed to attract midsize regional, national and international conferences. Consultants have estimated the economic benefit to northern Arizona to be about $7 million annually.

Outgoing Flagstaff Mayor Joe Donaldson, who spearheaded the city’s support of the project, said, “The conference center, through the partnership of NAU and the city, will have significant positive impacts on education, tourism and economic development throughout the greater Flagstaff area.”

The Flagstaff City Council voted to invest $2 million into the project.

A 22-foot-wide fireplace built from native stone welcomes guests to the conference center. It has 25,000 square feet of space, featuring a grand ballroom that can accommodate up to 1,000 for a general conference session and up to 800 for a banquet. The ballroom can be divided into five separate, sound-protected rooms. The second floor accommodates a boardroom and breakout meeting space.

Food for conferences is prepared and served by Sodexo Conferencing, which also operates and markets the center. “We’re pleased to add this beautiful new facility to the list of properties we operate,” said Mary Ann Boyle, senior vice president for Sodexo Conferencing. “Our goal is to bring the best food and service to all of our Flagstaff clients.”

An 80-foot covered bridge connects the conference center to a 158-room Drury Inns & Suites. The hotel features an indoor pool and workout room, complimentary breakfast and evening reception. It also has five meeting rooms that can accommodate nearly 300 people.

The design and construction of the hotel brought with it a number of environmentally friendly additions, such as solar water heating, gray water collection for reuse in irrigation systems, a high-efficiency AC system, recycling of construction debris, the purchase of as many construction materials as possible within a 500-mile radius of this site and many other green business practices.

“Drury Hotels is proud to partner with Northern Arizona University on a project that will provide so many opportunities for the city and the students at NAU,” said Chuck Drury, president and CEO of Drury Hotels. “We look forward to working closely with the university.”

Internships, lab requirements and educational opportunities that are part of NAU’s program in hotel and restaurant management will be offered by Drury, Sodexo Conferencing and Sodexo USA, which operates campus dining.

Although the partners are celebrating the official grand opening, the center has been in operation since March. The first event was a fundraiser for the Flagstaff Symphony on March 26. Another successful event was the Western Region Honors Conference in April.