"World-Class." A Hotelier’s Mega-Gift Matches a Regional University's Ambitions

purdue university. photo: Aeypix/shutterstock

purdue university. photo: Aeypix/shutterstock

As regional universities continue to raise mountains of cash, donors understand that success can also bring unforeseen downstream challenges or demands. To see this dynamic play out in real time, consider news out of West Lafayette, Indiana.

Purdue University is in the middle of an ambitious fundraising campaign to consolidate its position as a world-class research destination. Launched in 2015, its $2.019 billion “Ever True” campaign calls for, among other things, $400 million–$500 million to catalyze the “next great era in research excellence at Purdue.”

In the process, Purdue will recruit internationally renowned scholars, scientists and guest speakers, all of whom deserve—and in many cases, probably expect—accommodations representative of a “world-class” institution.

Enter brand hotel industry leader Bruce White.

Purdue University recently received a $30 million gift from White, former trustee and founder of White Lodging Services Inc., to transform the school's Union Club Hotel into a “a world-class hotel with a formal restaurant and bar” that will double as a laboratory learning environment for students.

Moreover, the hotel will be “a destination not only for Purdue alumni and friends, but for visitors from all over the world who want to experience the community and excitement of a world-class research university,” according to the university.

The son of billionaire philanthropist Dean White, Bruce graduated from Purdue in 1975 with a degree in management. He founded White Lodging in 1985. In 2006, RLJ Development, LLC, controlled by Robert L. Johnson, founder of BET and owner of the NBA Charlotte Bobcats, acquired 100 hotels from White Lodging Services for approximately $1.7 billion. As one of the largest hospitality companies in the U.S., White Lodging Services currently has more than 170 hotels in 21 states.

An advocate of numerous hospitality, business and civic organizations, White was a finalist for HOTELS Magazine’s Global “Corporate Hotelier of the Year” and was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Purdue University School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Hall of Fame.

White helped establish an endowment fund for future hospitality and tourism management students at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. The university also expanded its Hospitality and Tourism Management program, which is now known as the White Lodging School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, thanks to support from the Bruce & Beth White Family Foundation and the Dean & Barbara White Family Foundation.

Given his alumni status and position as an industry heavyweight, it’s easy to see why White was drawn to Purdue’s Union Club Hotel.

Built in 1929 as an addition to the Purdue Memorial Union, which opened in 1924 as a memorial to Purdue students who served in the First World War, the hotel has not received significant upgrades in recent years, and lacks features and amenities that are now considered customary for “a world-class” destination. Soon, it will have them.

“I am pleased to be able to put our resources to work for the renovation of the Union Club Hotel into a first-class facility that the students, faculty and staff can be proud to call their own,” White said in a university release.

His gift comes as a time in which Purdue University is embarking on a building boom that is pretty impressive even by today’s lofty standards.

Purdue recently broke ground on a 30-year, $1 billion plan to create what it called a “work-live-play” district west of campus. The plan calls for an array of single-family homes to meet pent-up housing demand for students and non-students alike.

The plan was first announced in late 2015. At the time, President Mitch Daniels framed the school’s initiatives as a means to make Purdue more competitive in the academic market. “If residential higher ed is going to retain its appeal to the best faculty and students, it will have to offer attractive settings for living, recreation and successful business neighbors,” he said.

(Donors elsewhere, for what it’s worth, wholeheartedly agree with Daniels’ assessment.)

As for Purdue’s “Ever True” campaign, signs suggest the university should easily meet—if not eclipse—its $2 billion-and-change goal before its targeted end date next year.

Back in July, the university reported that a record 86,176 donors gave in the fiscal year ending June 30, pushing 2017-2018’s tally to an all-time high of $451.5 million. Giving more than doubled since the launch of the “Ever True” campaign, whose tally stood at $1.964 billion.