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Saying Good-Bye to the New England Center

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
June 9, 2010

There’s a marketing slogan commonly used to describe hotel accommodations that goes something like this: a place where memories are made.

For Jane Gombar, general manger of the New England Hotel and Conference Center, that’s not just a saying.

Gombar remembers dinners served by candlelight in the New England Center’s restaurant when a blizzard knocked out the power. She remembers getting letters from jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie after he’d stayed at the hotel. And she remembers having to break the news to scores of people attending several conferences on Sept. 11 that the country was under attack.

There were other entertainers who stayed at the 115-room hotel (54 in the Adams Tower and 61 in the Kellogg Tower): The Kinks, Chicago, Alanis Morissette and Billy Idol—“He played his guitar in our bar,” Gombar says.

There were politicians: Ted Kennedy, Mike Dukakis, John Kerry, Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader. Journalists: Peter Jennings, Charlie Gibson and Ted Koppel. And celebrities like
Mister Rogers (“he had on a very nice sweater”), Shari Lewis and Lambchop, Robert Parish, writers John Irving and Hunter S. Thompson, and Mike Farrell from “M*A*S*H.”

“I always said I work in the most incredible place,” Gombar says. “I’ve met people from all over the world and have been exposed to so many cultures. I’m sad to see it end.”

After 41 years in business, that end comes June 30 when the New England Center, first known as the New England Center for Continuing Education, closes its doors for good.

Located on 10 acres, the hotel and conference center, funded through a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, was a cooperative venture of the six New England land grant universities (New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts-Amherst, Rhode Island and Vermont).

Since opening its doors in 1969 (when Gombar started working in housekeeping) the New England Center’s 12,000-square-feet of meeting space has provided a convenient and comfortable setting for conferences and seminars.

“The biggest piece of business was always the conference center. UPS ran a training school here for a number of years,” Gombar says. “The Whittemore School of Business was one of our biggest customers.”

Last week, Gombar and the staff had to say good-bye to a company that has been holding conferences at the New England Center four times a year since the day the conference center opened.

“That was hard,” Gombar says. “A lot of groups have continued to come through the years. We were the only certified conference center in New Hampshire.”

Part of the draw was that the New England Center’s eight conference rooms were designed for just that, conferences, with ergonomically correct seating and separate—not partitioned—rooms.

While conferences formed the core of the business, the center was also used for weddings and reunions. And the dining room, one of the first in the area to offer Sunday brunch, drew diners from afar.

Designed by William Pereira, who built the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, the New England Center also has a restaurant, café and bar. (The Acorn Room will continue serving lunch until the center closes). Pereira used glass, steel and green glazed brick to blend the building with the surrounding landscape. The triangular shape allowed for flexibility around trees and rocks and the soaring glass offered dramatic views.

Come September, the Kellogg Tower will be a dorm—the work is already underway. The main building will become home to several UNH departments.

According to UNH officials, closing the New England Center is necessary for several reasons: the downturn in the economy has aggravated an already challenging financial situation; there is increased competition from other hotel/conference facilities in the Seacoast; and there are no available funds for necessary capital repairs and upgrades.

 “We all knew this day was coming,” Gombar says. “We just thought we’d have longer. The staff remains dedicated and they are committed to continue providing the highest level of service they can as they say good-bye to friends and customers. The next three weeks will be the hardest faced for the truly wonderful employees that have made this place so special.”


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