The St. Thomas Board of Trustees voted on Feb. 13 to sell the Daniel C. Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna, Minn.
According to Doug Hennes, vice president of university and government relations, the conference center has been operating at a loss for more than 10 years.
“Recessions over the last 15 years have had a significant impact, as companies decided to save money and hold seminars on their own property or closer to home,” Hennes said. “Technology also has been a factor, as more and more webinars are offered online at a cost lower than attending a seminar offsite.”
The conference center, which opened in 1982, was a gift to the university from Daniel C. Gainey upon his death in 1979. The 180-acre property included the original Gainey home, a former stallion barn which has been converted into classrooms and the Frank Gehry Winston Guest House.
“The center has been used for a wide variety of educational purposes since it opened in 1982, including St. Thomas credit courses, seminars, workshops, planning meetings and retreats, as well as weddings and family reunions,” Hennes said.
Outside organizations, such as Honeywell International Inc., have also used the Gainey center.
The university decided to sell the center after determining that further expansion would not be able to make the operation sustainable or break even.
“We simply have not been able to bring in enough business and generate enough revenue to offset expenses, which are primarily personnel,” Hennes said.
The conference center employs nine full-time and seven part-time employees.
The university decided to keep the Winton Guest House. Hennes said he believes it will continue to bring value to the university. The guest house was moved from Minnetonka to Owatonna in 2011, and it may be moved again after the sale.
Hennes said the university will continue to operate the conference center during the sale process.
“We’ll be open for business and will take seriously our pledge to continue to offer the best possible experience for Gainey clients,” Hennes said.
The university has participated in community projects in Owatonna and will continue to do so as long as the center is open.
Sophomore Rebekah Nelson has been to the conference center twice, and said she wishes there was a way to avoid the sale.
“It was just a beautiful place, and we loved it. So obviously, I’m kind of upset,” Nelson said. “I wish there were some kinds of alternatives.”
Senior Chester Forsman, who has never been to the center, said he thinks a sale would be the most practical option.
“I haven’t heard of it being used that much recently, so it doesn’t seem like a bad move,” Forsman said. “I’m not too heartbroken about having missed it.”
But Nelson said she will miss the center because “a lot of memories were made there.”
“You just walk in the door and immediately you feel like it’s your home,” Nelson said. “A lot of awesome relationships have been formed there, and good things have come from it.”
Grace Pastoor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.