The Arc of Indiana breaks ground on Muncie complex

Published by The Tribune-Star
Written by Sue Loughlin

Arc of Indiana on Tuesday broke ground on a $29 million institute/teaching hotel in downtown Muncie that is designed train people with disabilities about the hospitality and food service industries.

“It’s the first of its kind in the nation,” said Marlene Lu, of Indiana State University’s Blumberg Center; Lu is the incoming vice president of Arc of Indiana, a nonprofit advocacy group for the disabled.

After receiving hospitality training at the institute, trainees will have the opportunity to apply those skills through an internship at the Courtyard by Marriott teaching hotel that is being developed by Arc’s for-profit affiliate, Arc Innovations. That facility will be located by the Horizon Convention Center in Muncie.

The six-story hotel will have 150 guest rooms and is expected to open next October. The project also includes a Thr3e Wise Men restaurant.

In addition to training those with disabilities for jobs, the project will train human resource professionals in hiring people with disabilities, employ people with disabilities at the hotel and offer the opportunity for people with disabilities to own their own business in the hotel.

Lu, who attended the groundbreaking, said the facility will offer education and training opportunities for special needs clients across Indiana. “It’s a wonderful project,” Lu said. “I’m psyched about it; I see a lot of potential.”

The project has some other Terre Haute connections, Lu noted. Garmong Construction is the project’s general contractor, while General Hotels Corp. — which operates the Holiday Inn and SpringHill Suites by Marriott in Terre Haute — will operate the hotel. Schmidt Associates, the architects, have done a lot of work at Indiana State University.

Jill Vaught, Arc of Indiana Foundation director of advancement, noted that the unemployment rate for those with disabilities is 82 percent. “That’s not acceptable,” she said. The new training institute/teaching hotel “is a first step in changing that. … We’ve got to put people to work so they can truly be independent.”

The training institute/teaching hotel is an example of “thinking outside the box and looking at things differently,” Vaught said. The project is one “the entire country is watching.”

Kim Dodson, associate executive director of The Arc and chief executive officer of Arc Innovations, stated, “We are making history today that will forever change the lives of people with disabilities.” Some of the partners in the project include the state of Indiana, city of Muncie and the Ball Brothers Foundation

According to Lu, once the training institute begins operations next fall, people with disabilities from throughout Indiana will be able to apply. Training will be for various jobs at all levels that include management, catering, culinary, front desk, laundry and room service. “It will be a working hotel,” she said. Once clients complete their training, they will receive a certification of completion, which they can take back to their home communities to help them obtain a job.

The teaching hotel will operate for-profit, with profits used to support the training institute and other initiatives of The Arc of Indiana to create employment for those with disabilities. Arc Innovations hopes to have the project paid off within three to five years, Vaught said.

Educational programs are being developed in cooperation with Ball State University and Ivy Tech Community College.

Dave Ofsansky, executive director of Arc of Vigo County, said the project will provide an excellent opportunity for individuals with disabilities to gain experience in a business setting. “It’s really a new concept,” he said.

The project will be called the Courtyard by Marriott at the Horizon Convention Center.