Construction crews work in one of the hospitality center’s four kitchens.Metro State doesn’t offer a culinary program, but faculty wanted
Construction crews work in one of the hospitality center's four kitchens.Metro State doesn't offer a culinary program, but faculty wanted students to know the basics of food. (The Denver Post)

When Metro State's new Hospitality Learning Center opens in August, students will get hands-on training in the building's four kitchen laboratories, two restaurants and wine cellar, as well as the opportunity to gain experience working at a hotel attached to the building.

The 600 students enrolled in the college's hospitality, tourism and events program will learn how to manage inventory and rotate wines in the "wine cellar management room," essentially a 3,100-bottle wine cellar.

They also will take classes in the building's sensory analysis laboratory, where they will learn the characteristics of wine, beer and spirits. Students participating in those classes must be 21 or older.

The Hospitality Learning Center's restaurants will include a student-operated fine-dining establishment and Red Robin's new fast-casual Burger Works concept.

The facility includes kitchens even though the school does not offer a culinary program, said Chad Gruhl, associate chairman and an associate professor in Metropolitan State College of Denver's hospitality, tourism and events program.

"I want students to touch food, to know the basics of food and to be behind the line," Gruhl said.

No taxpaper money is being used to pay for the $45 million Hospitality Learning Center and hotel under construction on the Auraria campus.


The project is being funded through a public-private partnership that includes bonds issued in November 2010 at a 4.34 percent interest rate; revenue from operations; and private donations, such as the $1 million gift from The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation.

"The foundation was established to support education in this type of urban environment," said Marriott's Alan Tuttle. "It's going to be a great showcase for the brand and the family name."

The Tivoli center sits across from the new Hospitality Learning Center on the Auraria campus.
The Tivoli center sits across from the new Hospitality Learning Center on the Auraria campus. (Kathryn Scott Osler | The Denver Post)

The Marriott gift, announced Friday, is the largest donation to the learning center to date.

In addition to the educational facility, Metro State is building a 150-room SpringHill Suites by Marriott to be operated by Denver-based Sage Hospitality, which pledged $250,000 to the project. The hotel is expected to have an average room rate of $140 a night.

The school also received a sizable gift from the International Sommelier Guild, a donation that gives the organization the exclusive right to teach in the new facility, Gruhl said.

The project comes at a time when the number of students enrolling in the hospitality program is rising. Over the past five years, the number of students in the program doubled to 600, Gruhl said.

He expects that to grow to 1,300 in the next eight years.

Margaret Jackson: 303-954-1473 or