Bare dirt replaces 3.7 acres of forest that once stood near the main entrance to the university. By the fall of 2012, a Hilton Hotel will peek over the row of trees that line Shirley Strum-Kenny Drive and Nicolls Road. The university hopes this hotel will benefit its annual 500,000 guests and visitors, but the location has been a source of controversy since plans were first announced in 2009.

“The initial phase of construction is underway,” said Helen Carrano, the university’s director of community relations. “Concrete footings and foundation walls are in progress.”

The final hotel will be five stories high and contain 135 guest-rooms with 5,000 square feet of meeting space. SBHC Private Equity IV, LLC, owned by Stony Brook alumnus Robert J. Frey, is financing the construction and leasing the land from the university. In addition to the benefits of the hotel, the university will receive a minority equity share and $100,000 per year in rent with a 3 percent per year escalation fee. Crescent Hotels & Resorts, LLC, a franchise of Hilton Garden Inn, will manage the hotel.

“I’m a little uncomfortable about the further development of the land. But it will provide benefits for the university,” said Sean Burton, an English and history double major. Burton, a senior,  hopes that the hotel will benefit student clubs and events that rely on out-of-state support, like the I-CON science fiction convention this spring.

However, the forest was previously used as an outdoor laboratory for biology students.

“The loss is, in my opinion, a great one for the university,” said Caitlin Fisher-Reid, a doctoral candidate in the department of ecology and evolution. “The beauty of the forest was its proximity to the Life Sciences research building… It was very easy to design labs that utilized the forest.” Fisher-Reid protested against the proposed hotel at a town hall meeting in 2009. The forest contained a population of the eastern red-backed salamander, which Fisher-Reid was studying for her dissertation. Now that the forest is gone, she isn’t sure the salamanders will be able to find a new territory.

Tim Enright, a fourth year history and anthropology major, is also concerned about the tradeoff for students. “The hotel would be fine to have for conferences but education should take precedence,” he said. “That’s what universities are for.”

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