Little word on the proposed Main Street hotel project

Bret Belden

First-year psychology major Cole Burnham loves his dorm in Alexander Hall. He feels that its community distinguishes it from other places first-year students live on campus. In his experience, the residents always keep their doors open, eat dinner together at the long tables and revise each other’s papers.  

But if the University of New Hampshire (UNH) goes through with its plans for a new hotel, that dorm, and those feelings of community, will soon become a thing of the past. 

Associate Vice President of Business Affairs David May provided no comment to The New Hampshire when asked about the status of the proposed Hetzel and Alexander Hall Hotel Project. May, along with Tim Elliott from Elliott Sidewalk Communities, submitted an application for the hotel project to the Town of Durham Planning and Zoning Board Committee in Nov. 2018, which detailed plans for a hotel and parking garage that takes up approximately 1.5 acres and occupies Alexander and Hetzel Hall’s current location on Main Street.  

The hotel would include an estimated 128 rooms and feature a spa, restaurant and other amenities that would be open to the community and visitors to UNH. Additional plans, meanwhile, propose turning the extra space on the lot into a one level parking deck.  

According to the application submitted to the Town of Durham, this project would require the destruction of Alexander Hall, “due to low floor ceiling heights and structural bearing wall issues.” The project will keep “Hetzel Hall exterior intact and will not significantly alter the building exterior,” add an addition onto the south façade of Hetzel Hall and branch out towards Alexander Hall’s currently location.  

“I don’t really know much about it,” Madison Maynard, the current hall director of Alexander Hall, said. Neither Maynard nor her residents have received any official word from the University informing them about the status of their residence hall. 

Students do not know much about it either, “but I hope it doesn’t happen” Burnham said.  

According to students like Burnham, there have been rumors that 2019-2020 will be Alexander Hall’s last year, but the University has yet to confirm any timeline for the project or how they will accommodate for the loss of an entire residence hall on campus.   

Alexander Hall is home to 135 first-year students; this year, it offers gender-inclusive housing and a floor dedicated specially to COLA students.  

“Everyone is already friends with each other,” Burnham said.  

“The community here is unbelievable,” Maynard said, stressing that the sense of hominess and the fact that everyone knows each other’s name makes her happy and proud of her hall. 

The plan would aim to potentially resolve the campus’ persistent parking problems.  In the consulting meeting with the Town of Durham Planning Committee, the applicants for the project and the board discussed the possibility of a private/public partnership with the parking garage. Under this partnership, local business employees and town patrons can use the garage during the day and leave it empty at night for residents.  

The applicants added that the hotel would co-operate with UNH Hospitality program.  

The University needed to submit a zoning variance in order to continue with the project. The variance for the hotel received public letters of support from Economic Development Director Mary Ellen Humphrey, Vice President for Finance and Administration Christopher Clement, and attorney Sean O’Connell. The Durham Planning Committee approved the zoning variance in Sept. 2018.   

A conceptual consultation for the project was presented to the board last November and was well received by the Durham Planning Committee. The committee stated that the University would need to apply for “another variance for dimensional and other parameters,” and also have the project reviewed by state and local fire marshals. However, no applications or variances regarding the project have been submitted to the committee since the initial consultation in 2018.  

In the meantime, Maynard says she is “thrilled to be in Alexander” but said that “it is more about the experience that you try to make for your students and the effort you put into making a really comfortable, healthy, safe and thriving environment for the residents…it’s just a matter of making sure you put in that effort no matter what hall you’re in.”  

Elliott Sidewalk Communities declined to comment over the phone and did not return requests over email for comment.