A lot has changed at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel since the facility first opened on May 7, 1994.
For starters, there’s the name. The place, located at Innovation Park, was originally known as the Penn State Scanticon Conference Center Hotel.
The hotel was run by a company called Scanticon International until the university took over operations from in 1997.
Judy Karaky was an events planner when the hotel first opened its doors. Now, two decades later, she’s the General Manager. She remembers the staff testing out every new product before anything was installed. “We would all take our shoes off and try the bath mat. One of my memories was hanging all the shower curtains for 150 rooms … thinking it was never going to end.”
The Penn Stater, as it’s called by most people, expanded to 300 rooms in 2004.
The facility was built to accommodate the needs of Penn State Outreach. “We really worked in tandem with the Outreach crew at the time, with their conferences coming in,” says Karaky. “Over the years, a lot of conferences were at the Nittany Lion Inn and we just outgrew the capacity of the Inn.”
These days, the Penn Stater handles thousands of conferences every year.
Asked how the Penn Stater has changed, Karaky says, “It’s gotten warmer. We’ve warmed it up with decor and colors and furniture, especially with the new front desk — making it easier for people to get in.
“We’ve got a very veteran staff so they’ve been involved in all these changes along the way and I think their responsiveness and customer service that was there from the beginning is still there.”
Quite a few of those workers have been with the Penn Stater for many years.
Event manager Margo Williamson started working at the Penn Stater 17 years ago as a concierge, often taking care of the guests’ special requests. Her most memorable request involved a guest who was caring for a friend’s rabbit back home. The bunny died unexpectedly. “He asked for us to … find a rabbit to replace the pet rabbit. During the day, we researched and found a pet store where he could go buy another rabbit.”
Lots of famous people have stayed at the Penn Stater, including former President Bill Clinton and Barack Obama before he became president.
Lots of well-known entertainers have also been guests.
One who stands out for Karaky is rock and roll star Cyndi Lauper. “I think she was the one who needed goat’s milk for a child. It’s not that we don’t have goat’s milk in Central Pennsylvania. Generally we didn’t have it at the hotel at the time so we had some scrambling to do for that.” Fortunately, the chef was able to track some down.
Karaky and other staffers are quick to point out that keeping everybody happy is just part of the job.
By the Numbers:
$43 million – What it cost to build the original facility
38 – The number of conference rooms
2,500 – The number of guests that can be accommodated for a single event
58,000 – The number of square feet in the various meeting rooms