Averett University President Tiffany Franks, Caesars Virginia General Manager Chris Albrecht and Caesars Senior Vice President of Development Robert Livingston. Photo by Grace Mamon.
Averett University president Tiffany Franks, Caesars Virginia General Manager Chris Albrecht and Caesars senior vice president of development Robert Livingston. Photo by Grace Mamon.

Caesars Virginia is investing half a million dollars to create a hospitality and tourism academic program at Averett University in Danville. This will provide internship and employment opportunities for students at the coming casino resort.

University President Tiffany Franks announced the $504,000 gift at a reception Wednesday afternoon with city, university and casino officials. 

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to develop this much-needed program and support of building a future workforce to help meet the hospitality and tourism needs right here in our community,” Franks said. “Just imagine how the investments by Caesars will help fuel the next stage of redevelopment for our region.”

Franks also introduced Chris Albrecht, the general manager for Caesars Virginia, who arrived in Danville yesterday, and Thomas Perugini, who will be the program’s inaugural director. 

Perugini has 25 years of industry experience in fields like food and beverage, and hotel and resort operations. He has also taught hospitality management for over a decade. 

Perugini said that the hospitality industry is in “a state of resurgence” and in desperate need for a talented workforce. 

“I’m very confident that Averett is going to be the pipeline for that talent,” he said. 

Something similar is happening at UVA Wise, in anticipation of the permanent Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Bristol, though that program is being funded with state dollars, not a casino investment. 

The General Assembly approved $12 million to support a variety of initiatives at UVA Wise, and $1 million of that total will be used to develop the new hospitality and tourism undergraduate program.

“We expect the undergraduate program to collaborate with casinos as well as a number of other resorts and facilities throughout the region primarily through student internships,” said Trisha Folds-Bennett, UVA Wise provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, in an email. 

The new program will support other resorts and tourism-related assets in the region, in addition to the casino, according to Shannon Blevins, the school’s vice chancellor for administration, government relations and strategic initiatives.

“We will work with Hard Rock to create a strong pipeline of talent through internships which are beneficial to both the company and our students,” Blevins said in an email. 

Caesars Virginia is anticipated to bring 1,300 permanent jobs to Danville, and the city’s tourism director Lisa Meriwether said the new Averett program will be a “game changer” in filling those jobs. 

“We are also talking to Averett through this program to develop an internship with the Danville tourism program,” she said in an interview after the announcement. “We’re already in conversation with them about putting together a program where the students can come and get that hands-on experience.”

Albrecht said many members of the Caesars team studied hospitality and tourism, and he spoke on behalf of Barron Fuller, regional president for Caesars Entertainment, who could not attend the event. 

“He would love nothing more than to look back in several years and see Averett graduates from this program becoming part of the Caesars family,” Albrecht said.

Officials from Averett University, Caesars and Danville at the announcement. Photo by Grace Mamon.
Officials from Averett University, Caesars and Danville at the announcement. Photo by Grace Mamon.

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org or 540-369-5464.