To the University of Tampa, a nearby Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel is a good way to house a growing student population.
To the 149 students, mostly freshmen, who live there, the place is Howie's, the HoJo or simply, "The Ho."
"It's not as bad as everyone thinks," said sophomore Mohamed Afifi, 20, who is studying international business.
Queen-sized beds. Maid service twice a week. Cable television with HBO. Hotel towels and linens. A shuttle to and from campus.
Oh, and there's a pool.
The benefits outweigh the inconvenience of being about a mile from campus, students generally say.
"It's pretty cool," said sophomore Clarine Ovando-Lacroux, 19, who is studying sociology. "You don't come to school expecting that you're going to get housekeeping services. "
The university has used downtown hotels to house the overflow from its campus housing on and off for nine years, said Krystal Schofield, UT's director of residence life. The number varies as the size of the student body fluctuates.
This fall, with a record freshman class of 1,437, administrators assigned 262 students to double rooms at the hotel, which is next to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
Over the past month or so, the university has moved students from the hotel onto campus as dorm rooms have opened up.
While not common, the practice of bunking students in hotels or apartments near campus is "not as unusual as it may have been years ago," Schofield said.
UT, which has no plans to build new dorms, has 6,291 students, of whom 5,177 are full-time undergraduates, the students traditionally eligible to live on campus. Its campus housing has space for 3,155 students, not including the Howard Johnson.
The university charges students $2,215 a semester to live at the Howard Johnson. That's comparable to what students pay to live in double rooms at several residence halls on campus.
Tuition at the University of Tampa is $21,420 a year, and the cost of campus housing, a meal plan and mandatory fees — but not books — pushes the annual cost of attending UT there to nearly $30,800.
Despite the distance from campus, the university tries to make sure students at the Howard Johnson are integrated into campus life.
The hotel-dorm has its own flag football team, Schofield said. It has residence assistants, or RAs, just like on-campus dorms. Students say they've gotten to know each other while riding the shuttle.
The HoJo also has smoothie nights, toy bowling in the hallways and its own presence on Facebook. But one student said that overall, the scene is likely less noisy than in the on-campus residence halls.
"I probably get a better night's sleep here" because it's quieter, said freshman Noelle Buoniello, 18, who is studying nursing.
Students at the Howard Johnson have to abide by the same rules as those living on campus. Howard Johnson is one of seven residence halls that UT designates as alcohol-free, meaning that neither students nor guests can have alcohol in the rooms that UT rents there.
While they have to wake up earlier to get to class on time, students generally say they feel safe moving between campus and the hotel. If they miss the shuttle, which runs as late as 1 a.m. some days, they can call the campus police for a ride to get back to their rooms.
Some students said last week they had not even heard of the death of UT student Ryan McCall, who was shot at 3 a.m. Aug. 19 as he and a friend walked back to campus from a local bar. Police have not made an arrest in the case.
Still, the HoJo residents generally said they know to take common-sense precautions, to be careful going places at night and to stay in groups, and did not feel uneasy about living in the hotel.
"I'm not really nervous when I'm walking around," said Shane Walsh, 17, a freshman from Westchester, N.Y. "I've been to some bad places in New York, so it's all right. I don't feel like I'm in danger around here."
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.