“It’s a win-win,” says Ronald Storto, vice president of hospitality for Biltmore Farms, UNC Asheville’s preferred partner for accommodations in Asheville. “Our brands align. Our missions align. We both want to drive economic impact and quality of life to the community as a whole.”
The partnership started more than a decade ago, when Storto and UNC Asheville Athletics Director Janet Cone met to bounce around ideas. Both had the same goal in mind—developing a partnership that would bring hotel stays to Asheville and Bulldog supporters to campus.
"During the Big South tournament, we had Liberty and High Point University stay with us at the Hilton. Everyday we greeted the teams, decorated the hotel in their school colors, and clapped every time their team buses pulled back in after another hard-fought victory. I wish I could have represented our Bulldog blue more than just the subtle tie I wore for school spirit during this exciting tournament. Getting to interact with each member of the team as well as the coaching and support staff of trainers was a really incredible experience. After meeting all the players from each team and getting to watch everyone play in front of you at the tournament, it was just another level of involvement that was fantastic to be a part of for a basketball fan such as myself."
-Nickolas Gold-Leighton, junior health and wellness promotion major, who works as as a front desk agent and concierge for the Hilton of Biltmore Park
For every stay in one of the Biltmore Farms hotels—DoubleTree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore, Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park, and Residence Inn Biltmore—money goes back to the UNC Asheville Athletics Department in the form of scholarships.
Storto estimates that the company has given at least $275,000 over the more than decade-long partnership, along with a $15,000 contribution over the last three years for a baseball capital project. They’ve also partnered with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville, which hosts nationally known workshops that draw crowds to campus a few weekends a year, and they offer complimentary stays to major university speakers and a discounted rate to UNC Asheville friends and family.
“UNC Asheville Athletics has enjoyed a long and productive business relationship with Biltmore Farms Hotels for over 12 years,” said Cone. “Equally important to us, they have built strong relationships with all our Bulldog coaches, student-athletes, staff, alumni, and fans and have invested in our scholarship fund. They are key members of the Bulldog team and are dedicated to helping us become ‘Champions in Athletics and Leaders in Life.’”
Storto, a Bulldog season-ticket holder, has met many student-athletes in person, joining them for team breakfasts, finding that, “It gives you a different perspective of what a student-athlete goes through. I’ve gained a greater appreciation about how our university is run and how our coaches engage with student-athletes, helping them and directing them in life.”
Biltmore Farms can be a stop on that journey, whether it’s a stay during a first visit to campus or Family Weekend, or an internship, and ultimately a career. UNC Asheville graduate Natalie Shaft ’99, human resources director at Biltmore Farms, knows that path well. A nontraditional student who came to UNC Asheville for a degree in human resources management several years after earning her associate’s degree, she recalls the classroom experience that connected to her career, including courses in psychology, humanities and management.
“When I was a student at UNC Asheville, it was a great learning experience. It gave me an opportunity to share the knowledge I had and to get insights from the more traditional students. We had good discussions about how the workforce should be and what our expectation level is and what really happens,” she said. “The first step is the educational foundation that students get while they are at UNC Asheville, combined with the drive that they have in wanting to do a good job.”
Shaft sees that winning combination daily, as several graduates have been employed by the company, and join the team to roll out the Bulldog Blue for UNC Asheville friends and family.