Students reflect on life at ‘Voliday Inn’ after UT takeover

This academic year, the University of Tennessee acquired a year lease of the Holiday Inn Express at Papermill Drive to mitigate the record number of freshmen. The hotel is operating as a temporary residence hall, complete with an on-site hall director and resident assistants, according to UT Housing’s website.

The leasing of the Holiday Inn Express faced a lot of scrutiny due to the ongoing lack of on-campus housing options for students. Several reports by local outlets such as The Daily Beacon have highlighted the housing struggles in and around campus and how this is affecting students.

But halfway into the semester, what do students living there really think?

“I like it a lot, it’s very quiet so studying is really easy, the staff is really nice there [and] I like the free breakfast,” said sophomore Mackenzie Bentley. “We actually have a church that comes and provides us food and lets us use their gym and the rooms I definitely think are a lot nicer than dorm rooms.”

The Holiday Inn Express has provided the university with extra space to find homes for the university’s largest freshman class, more than 6,785 students and “provides an affordable housing option for transfer students in a high-demand housing market,” according to UT Housing. The Tennessee State School Bond Authority approved the lease in late July with reports stating it will cost the university $3,166,086.

According to the 2022 State of Housing Report by the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors, the cost of rent and occupancy rates has risen to record highs. The effect of Covid-19 on the cost of living has increased rent by 19.27% just in 2021 alone, setting an 18-year high. Occupancy for rental properties has also added to the housing struggles for students as the market-rate rental occupancy rate grew to 98.9% in the fourth quarter of 2021.

“It’s been pretty relaxing, chill. It’s been nice to have a bus that runs through campus and the Holiday inn. It makes it more convenient,” said sophomore Kian Sepehr. “I wanted to live on campus but it’s been pretty nice so far.”

Along with the lease of the hotel, UT has been providing students living at the so-called Voliday Inn with a direct bus route from the hotel to campus with the service running every 20 minutes. The buses are the same ones that run on campus routes including the Neyland Express and The Hill. The off-campus route, however, is susceptible to delays with buses taking Interstate 40 which experience car accidents and can cause timing issues for students.

“The bus has helped a lot with that because a lot of people don’t have cars. I have a car but parking is so bad on campus it just makes it easier to take the bus which is nice that the Holiday Inn has that, ” Sepehr said.

Bentley agrees. “I liked it, they actually started taking a longer route to integrate us into campus a little bit more,” she said.

The Holiday Inn Express offers transfer students with the least expensive housing option at UT with the 2022-2023 fall and spring semester rates listing a single room for $1,610 per semester and a double room for $1,450 per semester.

“People definitely hate on the Voliday Inn a little bit. ‘It’s a hotel it must be terrible.’ It’s really not,” Bentley said. I think we got it for a steal, we’re paying a whole lot less, free parking at the hotel, we get half-priced parking at UT and I feel like it’s a really nice place to live and everyone there is super nice.”

The students at the ‘Voliday’ Inn have been taken care of, for this year at least.

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