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Industry Briefs

Venture Includes Conversion of Existing Campus Facilities into a 150-Key

Upscale Hotel and Hospitality Training Complex for Morris Brown Students

CGI Merchant Group, LLC (CGI) - a minority-owned global investment management firm with a focus in real estate and private equity - announced recently it will make a $30 million investment in the historic Morris Brown College to convert existing facilities into a 150-key upscale hotel and hospitality management training complex. Construction of the 90,000-sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility is expected to begin later this year.  

With this announcement, Morris Brown becomes the only Historically Black College and University (HBCU) nationwide with both a flagged hotel and a hospitality management training program on its campus. The hotel will join the Tapestry Collection by Hilton, adding to the hospitality industry leader's portfolio, consisting of more than 6,400 properties in 119 countries and territories worldwide. The 150-key property will offer two food and beverage outlets, an outdoor terrace and instructional space for the school's hospitality students. The venture marks another milestone for CGI's recently launched $650 million   Hospitality Opportunity Fund (H-fund), which targets to acquire 20 hotels across North America and the Caribbean over the next three years.  

Morris Brown was founded by formerly enslaved religious leaders at Big Bethel AME Church in 1881 and is the first college in Georgia to be owned and operated by African-Americans. The iconic Fountain Hall and the current Morris Brown campus is where Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote The Souls of Black Folk in 1903. Notable alumni include Alberta Williams King, mother of Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Alan McPherson, the first Black writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  

Morris Brown is centrally located in downtown Atlanta within a one-mile radius of other renowned HBCUs, such as Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University, within the Atlanta University Center Consortium. The campus sits next to the Mercedes Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons national football team, tech giant Microsoft Corp's soon-to-be Atlanta office and the State Farm Arena.   

Raoul Thomas

"Morris Brown's storied history and prime location make this a perfect opportunity for CGI to fulfill our mission of uniting sound financial investing with a meaningful and measurable community impact," said CGI Founder and CEO Raoul Thomas. "It is both a privilege and source of pride to be embarking on this endeavor with likeminded business partners who have come together to make history. CGI hopes that this partnership serves as a catalyst for continued change, as more and more organizations and individuals are turning their attention to these important historic institutions which have been overlooked for far too long."

In addition to the development of the hotel and training complex, CGI has committed to the establishment of an endowment to fund several initiatives including financial aid to students, future expansion goals, and assisting minority and women-owned businesses in the surrounding community, with the objective of creating the number one hospitality management program at a HBCU in the U.S.  

The partnership opportunity was presented by Verdun Perry as well as CGI Senior Managing Director, Euclid Walker. Both Perry and Walker are honorable alumni and board members of neighboring HBCU Morehouse College.  

Hilton intends to play an active role in the project, going beyond the proposed franchisor and operator. The hotel industry giant will serve in an advisory capacity for Morris Brown's hospitality management program, providing guidance on how the curriculum can best prepare Morris Brown students for any number of careers in the hotel

business. Hilton also looks forward to contributing guest lecturers and facilitating job shadowing at local Hilton properties for Morris Brown students, creating pathways for internship and post-graduation career opportunities.

"Hilton was founded more than 100 years ago with one vision in mind: to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality. We've seen time and again the tremendous positive impact travel can have on people and communities around the world - and that's what fuels our commitment to driving inclusive growth," said Christopher J. Nassetta, president & chief executive officer, Hilton. "Our work with CGI and Morris Brown College represents an important opportunity to bring even brighter, more diverse perspectives to the hospitality industry, and we look forward to helping this next generation of leaders thrive for years to come." 


            Christopher J. Nassetta                       Dr. Kevin James

Given CGI's mission to support local and minority-owned businesses, the project development team is comprised of Georgia's C. D. Moody Construction, one of the country's top Black-owned construction companies and Chasm Architecture, a full-service design firm based in Atlanta.    

"It is heartening to see major hospitality players not only supporting our academic institution but making a concerted effort to advance equity in the industry as a whole," said Dr. Kevin James, President of Morris Brown. "Morris Brown has served as a beacon of opportunity for Black and minority students for many decades. We look forward to working alongside CGI and its partners as we continue to carry that legacy and create the next generation of minority hospitality leaders."