In Our Opinion — February 2013
Highlighting The Good
During this time of economic turmoil, it is particularly refreshing to highlight some of the new and exciting developments taking place in the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) community.
Without much fanfare, the 1,000-room Army Lodge at Fort Lee, Va., opened its doors in December. The quiet opening could be perceived as ironic, given the number of obstacles that the Fort Lee Lodge faced for the better part of four years from the vociferous local community.
Does anyone remember the Greater Tri-Cities Hospitality Coalition? We certainly do. This group of approximately 180 local businesses — mainly hotels, restaurants and other retailers — voiced its objection, loudly, to having the lodge constructed due to the negative impact that the coalition felt it would have on the local economy.
The coalition's vigorous opposition ultimately forced Congress to delay its approval to construct the lodging facility until questions raised by the local businesses were addressed by the Army.
Ultimately, Congress approved construction of the Fort Lee Lodge in March 2010 after Army representatives proved that there would still be a significant need for off-post lodging even after the Army Lodge at Fort Lee was built. Even with a total of nearly 1,600 rooms available at Fort Lee (1,000 rooms plus the existing 577 rooms already on base), an influx of Army Logistics University (ALU) students training on post would still require local hotels to provide up to 900 rooms each night, according to the Army.
Fast-forward nearly three years later. Construction is now complete, with the lodge's food and beverage (F&B) operation expected to open for ALU students this summer. Furniture and furnishings are installed; amenities, right down to pots and pans in the guest rooms, are in place; and a beautiful fireplace and large, comfortable chairs are featured in the lobby. Essentially, the Fort Lee Lodge is open for business.
In fact, during the first weekend in January that the lodge was open for guests, more than 800 of the 1,000 rooms were already occupied. By the following weekend, there were no vacancies.
Guest feedback has been extremely positive since the lodge opened, due to the convenience that having the extra rooms on base provides, as well as the amenities offered in the new rooms.
As the largest Army Lodging facility in the continental United States (CONUS), the Fort Lee Lodge provides an essential quality-of-life benefit for the servicemen and women who are taking courses on post. It may have taken longer than anticipated to construct the facility, but in the end, it was well worth the wait.
While the lodge's food and beverage operation is being constructed, hungry students can enjoy breakfast and lunch across the street at the ALU cafeteria, which revamped its menu offerings after a recent transfer of operations from the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) — which had operated the cafeteria at Fort Lee for more than 35 years — to the foodservice management company that was awarded the Army contract to operate the lodge's food and beverage hub.
AAFES will concentrate on operating the name-brand fast-food restaurants at Fort Lee, which are also available to students as the lodge's F&B operation is being built.
Ultimately, the goal is to create an improved F&B experience for ALU students desiring that “taste of home.”
It's especially gratifying, during these tough fiscal times, to be able to spotlight the new and improved facilities that are already making a difference in the daily lives of service members. That's what MWR is all about.