INFRASTRUCTURE

Suffolk is buying a luxe hotel to house its students

SOURCE: Shutterstock

Located on the edge of the Boston Financial District, the historical Ames Hotel is not likely to strike anyone as suitable housing for university students.

But come fall 2020, it may very well be the new dormitory of Suffolk University’s undergrads in Downtown Boston.

The institution reportedly has an agreement to buy the hotel on Court Street and convert it into a new residence hall. The 114-room boutique hotel that opened in 2010 in the Ames Building is expected to close early this fall; the hotel’s online reservation system currently no longer allows bookings.

“We are definitely interested in that site,” John Nucci, Suffolk’s senior vice president for external affairs, said in Boston Globe on August 19. 

“It would be an ideal location for student housing, and our students will move out of private apartments and into a safe and supervised setting.”

Boston student housing
The Ames Hotel would make the perfect new digs for Suffolk University’s incoming student recruits. Source: Ames Boston Hotel

The sale hadn’t yet closed at the time of the report’s publication, with no financial terms available and no announcement from the hotel on its closure.

But people familiar with the matter said Suffolk would be paying between US$60 and US$70 million for the property, much higher than what its current owner paid for it but a bargain compared to what it would have had to pay to build its own dorm downtown.

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Texas investment firm Invesco bought the property for US$53 million in 2015. Standing at 196 feet, the Ames Building was built in 1893 and remained the tallest building in Boston until 1915 when the Custom House Tower was built. Many consider it the city’s first skyscraper and it remains today an architectural landmark, known for its distinctive Byzantine facade.

Invesco reportedly put it up for sale earlier this year and received plenty of interest from other hotel operators but it was Suffolk that put forward the most attractive offer.

This speaks volumes about the state of Boston’s troubled housing market, and the lengths some universities need to go to meet student housing demands.

Boston-area rents and property prices are notoriously sky-high, making it among the most expensive cities across the US to live in. A recent report from real estate website RealtyHop put the city fifth on the list of least affordable housing markets.

A major reason for this, according to Curbed, is that the city plays host to a pretty massive student population. Insufficient campus housing means students tend to live off-campus, affecting the private rental market and increasing demand for housing in a place where real estate supply is already tight.

Boston housing
Boston is home to the fifth least affordable cities in the US for housing. Source: Shutterstock

Mitigation efforts by the city several years back included a directive from the Walsh administration for universities to boost on-campus housing, reducing the need for students to seek accommodation outside and freeing up apartment space for private renters. 

In acquiring Ames, Suffolk would inch closer to its goal of housing 50 percent of its 5,000 full-time undergraduates to meet with city requirements. The university currently houses 30 percent of its student body in apartments, suites and rooms across several buildings in the Downtown area.

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Last year, the university began leasing a former Boston University dormitory in Allston as temporary housing, a Boston Magazine report said, in efforts to increase student beds and disperse housing outside the city centre. But students felt overly disconnected to rest of the Suffolk community.

Ames would give Suffolk exactly what it needs–high-quality housing in a prime location. The hotel can also be easily converted into dorm space, helping reduce the cost of refurbishment than if the institution had purchased a different nature of building.

However, any plan to turn the hotel into a student dorm would first have to meet city guidelines. A spokesperson from the Boston Planning & Development Agency told Boston Globe that no proposal has been received so far but it was looking forward to hearing from the institution.

“Mayor Walsh’s Housing Boston 2030 [initiative] identifies the creation of student housing as one way to address the city’s housing needs,” the BPDA pointed out in a statement.