The University of Pennsylvania


Mixed-Use Campus Conference Center Advisory Services

In January 2017, the University of Pennsylvania engaged Brailsford & Dunlavey to provide planning advisory services for the development of an on-campus conference center. The engagement included an evaluation of market demand for the center and an analysis of the financial feasibility of constructing and operating one that accommodates this demand. The project team conducted the assessment with the understanding that any new on-campus conference center must not only be positioned to support the university’s academic mission, but also achieve break-even operating performance.

B&D established the following work plan for this analysis:

• A macro-level market analysis to identify external market forces, demographic characteristics, and underlying trends that may affect demand for an on-campus conference center.
• An on-campus supply analysis to obtain insight into the barriers, constraints, and opportunities that exist within the current inventory of spaces.
• A utilization analysis to understand the ways in which the campus community currently uses its existing supply of conference, meeting, and event spaces, as well as ways in which it might utilize a new conference center on campus.
• An off-campus supply analysis to understand the market context in which Penn’s existing and future conference, meeting, and event spaces exist.
• A peer analysis of six other universities to identify best practices and patterns of performance and use at conference centers of a similar scope and scale.
• Preliminary program development to support the university’s strategic objectives. This exercise included a preliminary project budget based on conference center developments of similar scope and scale.
• Financial modeling to assess the feasibility of constructing and operating the recommended project concept.

B&D’s market analysis determined that there was demand sufficient to support a hotel-conference center with 100 beds and approximately 30,000 square feet of meeting space and the financial analysis projected an operational cost recovery ratio of 123-135%. Based on B&D’s findings, the university will proceed with the approval and procurement processes with its leadership and board of trustees. The project has a targeted opening date of 2020.