Drury Hotels donates building to Three Rivers

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Drury Hotel officials passed over the multi-million dollar deed of the former Pear Tree Inn and neighboring restaurant to Three Rivers Community College on Monday.

Possibilities for the two North Westwood Boulevard facilities, totaling 76,230 square feet on 1.75 acres, are a work-force solutions center in the hotel portion and a culinary arts program in the restaurant, school officials said.

"As of today, we will be on a fast track, looking at all potential options," said Dr. Devin Stephenson, Three Rivers president.

He named Robert Drury, CEO of the national hotel chain, an honorary alumnus of Three Rivers and awarded him a medallion for his partnership in helping to serve the students. Stephenson said the junior college campus was built upon donations.

"Donors such as Myrtle Rutland, Harry L. Crisp, Herschel and Arrettia Bess, Lora Tinnin and Kay Porter saw the value of Three Rivers Community College and, like Bob Drury, they believed in helping students and they believed in the vital role that this college plays in the economic development of this entire region," Stephenson said.

Drury said he thinks the building will be put to good use.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a big plus for us and a bigger plus for you," he said.

Since the Pear Tree Inn went out of business in January, Drury said, hotel officials have considered selling or remodeling the structure, along with the accompanying restaurant building, to no avail.

Drury said Brandon McVey, owner of Allstate Insurance in Poplar Bluff, was instrumental in making the case that the building should go directly to the college, joking that the local businessman called him about a half-dozen times.

McVey, who also was honored by Stephenson, became acquainted with Drury through his hotel operation, he said.

"I'm just glad the college is able to use it," McVey said.

Stephenson and former college administrators met with Drury representatives in May to make their proposal, and soon began working out the details with the corporate counsel.

The stipulations of the deed allow retrofitting of the structure as needed, with a fallback option of leasing out or selling the space, according to Stephenson. He said the donation is worth more than $3.5 million.

"The declaration allows us the freedom to do what we believe is best for our community," Stephenson said. He added one restriction is that it cannot be used for student housing.

Some of Stephenson's ideas for the donation initially included a headquarters to foster the development of green jobs, a conference center with break-out rooms, a small business development center or the launch pad for a hospitality program.

Stephenson has already been in discussions with area high school officials regarding a culinary arts partnership, which could happen in late spring or early summer of next year, he said. The college may consider housing its federal programs there, a transition that can begin as early as January, he added.

"Above all, there is a real need for additional training for incumbent and displaced workers in the area, and an off-campus location to offer the education would be ideal," said Stephenson.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., will accompany Stephenson in visiting the "i3D Center" at Fayetteville Technical Community College in North Carolina in November to learn about emerging technology in the field of virtual instruction. If federal funding is secured with help from the congresswoman, Stephenson said, he will look to deliver 3-D classes in Poplar Bluff, strengthening the allied health, nursing and criminal justice sectors of the region.

"We want to establish a specific niche, different than what everyone else is doing," said Stephenson. "For now, engineers are looking at the facility, and we have some government funding earmarked."

The facility will be named the Lambert C. Drury Educational Center, after the founder of Drury Southwest Inc.

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