What was once Wittel Dormitory, an all female dorm, is now a boutique hotel, complete with rooftop bar.
The Collegiate Hotel is truly an all-Auburn kind of place. When you check in at the front desk, you do so on a stand of Auburn Glomerata’s (the school’s yearbook.)
When you have a drink on the rooftop bar, you do so with a view of Samford Hall. And just by staying in one of the hotel’s rooms, you’re surrounded by history.
“When plans to convert the hotel were made public, there was a lot of initial anxiety from the community about the plans for a hotel,” said Kim Wirth, one of the owners of the Collegiate. “We knew our vision was to create a charming space to gather with family and friends. A place that blended style with history, not a cookie cutter chain. We wanted a place we could be proud of and the entire community could be proud of, creating a new Auburn tradition.”
Kim and her husband, Brian Wirth, opened the hotel in 2018 — but that had not always been their plan.
“It was serendipitous that on a work trip to Auburn I saw the former Wittel dorm for women was for sale,” Kim said. “It was still operational and I toured the dorm the same day and called Brian with this crazy idea that we should buy the property. Almost immediately this crazy idea started to form; transform the dorm into a hotel and retire from our current jobs in Memphis [Tennessee,] and relocate the family to Auburn to start this small business.”
And so, they did. The hotel accommodates 40 rooms and a rooftop bar.
“No visit is complete without a trip to our rooftop bar for one of our signature cocktails, the Toomer-Tini or the AUBee’s margarita, the later that is made with local honey and every sale supports the Auburn University Bee Lab,” Kim said.
The lobby has a sequenced mural, a piano, original art and a lot of seating — perfect for a community like Auburn that enjoys gathering together.
Unfortunately, gathering became out of the question last March.
“When COVID hit it was truly heartbreaking to have to let our entire staff of 30+ people go,” Kim said. “Knowing how you run your business impacts them, but when you have no guests arriving and you can’t make payroll and you are scared.
“… That feeling of helplessness and hopelessness was the hardest thing we encountered and never expected. Luckily, with the support of local programs we were able to bring our team back and we were proud that everyone stuck it out and came back.”
It is not only the staff that makes The Collegiate (fondly called The COHO) special, Kim said, it is the guests.
As Auburn alumni, Kim and Brian have been able to not only enjoy the city they graduated in, but see old friends return from time to time.
“Every week we see people we haven’t see in 20 plus years and those great memories together come flooding back and for a fleeting moment we laugh and think ‘yeah we could be back in college,’” she said.
Of course, there are those new to the area, and all of Auburn’s charms.
“Our downtown location across from campus is ideal for people visiting Auburn University,” Kim said. “ … For us, Auburn is the perfect combination of small-town life, where you know your neighbors and can connect as part of a community, with the benefits of ongoing education and diversity that a college town inherently brings.”
Like Kim said, the community was a little uneasy about the possibility of The COHO when it first began.
But Kim and Brian kept the history of the building in place. So, instead of creating a marked difference in Auburn’s landscape, the COHO is simply a repurposing of Wittel Dormitory.
“We love to see in such a short amount of time that the Collegiate has become a source of pride for the community and a destination for visitors and the community,” Kim said. “It is so rewarding to have already celebrated many wonderful milestones with our guests: wedding proposals (so far we have a 100% acceptance rate,) wedding ceremonies on the rooftop overlooking Samford, bachelorette parties, sweet 16’s birthday celebrations and the list goes on and on. We love to feel so connected to our community in such a short amount of time.”