Georgia college to get Hilton-branded hotel, training complex

Construction of the 90,000-square-foot hotel and hospitality management training complex at Morris Brown College is expected to begin later this year. Photo credit: Morris Brown College (Morris Brown College)

CGI Merchant Group, a minority-owned global investment management firm with a focus in real estate and private equity, will invest $30 million in the historic Morris Brown College to convert existing facilities into a 150-room upscale hotel and hospitality management training complex. Construction of the 90,000-square-foot facility is expected to begin later this year. 
 
This project makes Morris Brown the only Historically Black College and University nationwide with both a flagged hotel and a hospitality management training program on its campus. The hotel will join the Tapestry Collection by Hilton. The property will have two food-and-beverage outlets, an outdoor terrace and instructional space for the school’s hospitality students. The venture marks another milestone for CGI's recently launched $650 million Hospitality Opportunity Fund, which expects to acquire 20 hotels across North America and the Caribbean over the next three years. 

Related: Baseball's Alex Rodriguez backs $650M hospitality fund

In addition to the development of the hotel and training complex, CGI has committed to the establishment of an endowment to fund several initiatives, including financial aid to students, future expansion goals and assisting minority and women-owned businesses in the surrounding community, with the objective of creating the top hospitality management program at a HBCU in the U.S. 
 
The partnership opportunity was presented by Verdun Perry, senior managing director and global head of Blackstone's Strategic Partners, and CGI Senior Managing Director Euclid Walker. Both Perry and Walker are alumni and board members of neighboring HBCU Morehouse College. 

Hilton's Role

Hilton intends to play an active role in the project, going beyond the proposed franchisor and operator. The hotel industry giant will serve in an advisory capacity for Morris Brown’s hospitality management program, providing guidance on how the curriculum can best prepare Morris Brown students for careers in the hotel business. Hilton will contribute guest lecturers and facilitate job shadowing at local Hilton properties for Morris Brown students, creating pathways for internship and post-graduation career opportunities. 
 
“Hilton was founded more than 100 years ago with one vision in mind: to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality. We’ve seen time and again the tremendous positive impact travel can have on people and communities around the world—and that’s what fuels our commitment to driving inclusive growth,” said Christopher J. Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton. “Our work with CGI and Morris Brown College represents an important opportunity to bring even brighter, more diverse perspectives to the hospitality industry, and we look forward to helping this next generation of leaders thrive for years to come.” 
 
The project development team is comprised of Georgia’s C. D. Moody Construction—a Black-owned construction company—and Chasm Architecture, a full-service design firm based in Atlanta. 
 
"It is heartening to see major hospitality players not only supporting our academic institution but making a concerted effort to advance equity in the industry as a whole," said Kevin James, president of Morris Brown. "Morris Brown has served as a beacon of opportunity for Black and minority students for many decades. We look forward to working alongside CGI and its partners as we continue to carry that legacy and create the next generation of minority hospitality leaders." 

History and Heritage

Morris Brown was founded by formerly enslaved religious leaders at Big Bethel AME Church in 1881 and is the first college in Georgia to be owned and operated by African Americans. Fountain Hall and the current Morris Brown campus is where Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote "The Souls of Black Folk" in 1903. Notable alumni include Alberta Williams King, mother of Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Alan McPherson, the first Black writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 
 
Morris Brown is located in downtown Atlanta within a one-mile radius of other HBCUs, such as Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University, within the Atlanta University Center Consortium. The campus sits next to the Mercedes Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons national football team, Microsoft’s soon-to-be Atlanta office and the State Farm Arena. 
 
“Morris Brown’s storied history and prime location make this a perfect opportunity for CGI to fulfill our mission of uniting sound financial investing with a meaningful and measurable community impact,” said CGI Founder and CEO Raoul Thomas. "It is both a privilege and source of pride to be embarking on this endeavor with likeminded business partners who have come together to make history. CGI hopes that this partnership serves as a catalyst for continued change, as more and more organizations and individuals are turning their attention to these important historic institutions which have been overlooked for far too long."