Hyatt Centric Hotel Image courtesy Arrowstreet

Local colleges have submitted plans to lease more than 1,000 rooms at Boston hotels for the upcoming school year, throwing a lifeline to one of the hardest-hit property sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suffolk University, Northeastern University and New England Conservatory of Music plan to lease blocks of floors – and the entire Boxer Hotel and Midtown Hotel – to provide students with single-occupancy rooms and reduce the risk of virus transmission.

Hotel owners and operators throughout the country are looking for any way to revive revenue streams, said Rachel Roginsky, principal at Boston-based hospitality industry consultants Pinnacle Advisory Group.

“Hotels are actually competing now for this business,” Roginsky said. “They want it.”

To achieve single occupancy in its 768 dorm rooms, Suffolk University said it will lease a combined 473 rooms at hotels in four neighborhoods: the DoubleTree Hilton in Downtown Crossing, the Wyndham Hotel on Beacon Hill, the Boxer Hotel in the Bulfinch Triangle and the Hyatt Centric Hotel in the Financial District.

Prior to the pandemic, Suffolk had acquired the former Ames Hotel near Government Center for a conversion into 280 dorm rooms, part of the university’s strategy to house 50 percent of students on-campus.

Northeastern University plans to lease two hotels that are currently closed – the Westin Copley Place and Midtown Hotel, for a combined 487 rooms for students and staff, according to a document submitted to the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

And New England Conservatory of Music said it will lease up to 98 rooms at Mount Vernon Co.’s Revolution Hotel in South End through May 24.

In Allston, Boston University plans to lease 179 units in a microapartment-style apartment building at 1047 Commonwealth Ave. for quarantine housing. The 100,000-square-foot building has been leased to Boston University and Suffolk University in recent years for spillover student housing.

While hotels were allowed to remain open during all phases of the COVID-19 shutdown to serve health care workers and other emergency services, occupancy rates have plunged to unprecedented lows.

Since Massachusetts lifted restrictions on hotel occupancy June 8, only 30 percent of the Boston-Cambridge market’s nearly 26,000 hotel rooms have been placed back in service, according to Pinnacle Advisory Group research.

Hotel operators are likely to receive lower revenues from the college leases than pre-pandemic revenues from their traditional business, and have to address concerns about noise and wear-and-tear from their transition to de facto dorms, Roginsky said.

But the risk is worth it to operators given continuing uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic and timing of a recovery in tourism and business travel.

“They’re all coming to the conclusion that if they get a guaranteed lease from a university, it probably makes more sense,” Roginsky said. “From a [revenues per available room] standpoint, it’s going to be less than what they’ve gotten in the past, but they’ll be able to pay their mortgage, which is the most important thing right now.”

Boston Colleges to Lease Over 1K Hotel Rooms for Students

by Steve Adams time to read: 2 min