ASUCR state of the association meeting covers HUB food court overhaul

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Spring quarter’s second ASUCR state of the association meeting was held on Wednesday, May 12 in the senate chambers. The meeting, which commenced at 6:10 p.m., focused predominantly on Dining Services’ plans regarding the establishment of new eateries in the HUB, a change that is projected to occur over the summer.

After a few brief announcements, UCR Dining Services Executive Director David Henry began his presentation on Dining’s HUB Food Court Initiative, which seeks to correct the suggested financial losses of between $1.7 million and several hundreds of thousands of dollars sustained by the HUB food court every year since its establishment in 2007. If the changes were not put into effect over the summer, Henry said, Dining would “probably still come in at just under a million dollars’ loss” related to the HUB food court. The price increases meant to offset these losses seem to have reached “a ceiling in many locations,” Henry reported, a situation that he believes benefits neither Dining nor the students it serves.

To remedy this problem, Henry said, Dining Services is moving forward with a plan to replace the food court’s UCR-run eateries with third-party tenants, a term used to designate branches set up by private businesses, such as the Panda Express and Sushi by Panda already operating in the HUB. Henry explained that such a change should enable Dining to move “from a projected loss of just under a million (dollars) to a projected profit of about $200,000.”

Henry then broke down the essentials of the plan, first detailing the decision to replace The Grill at Latitude 55 with California-based hamburger chain The Habit Burger Grill. He went on to say that La Fiamma will be replaced by create-your-own pizza chain Pieology and that Sushi by Panda is on track to be “upgraded” to the Japanese restaurant Hibachi-San — another brand run by the Panda Restaurant Group — which specializes in poke bowls and will come equipped with a bar serving boba and similar drinks. Habanero’s is still awaiting replacement; according to Henry, Dining has reached out to both Chronic Tacos and Chipotle for interest.

All of the conversions are expected to be finished by September, Henry said, though the replacement of Habanero’s may have to wait until the 2017-18 winter break.

Before taking questions, Henry concluded his presentation by assuring his audience that no layoffs will occur as a result of the HUB food court overhaul, either among the 170 full-time dining staff employed by UCR or the 900-plus students typically working for Dining during a given quarter. The brands that will repopulate the HUB have signed contracts that ensure a smooth transition, he said: Dining Services has “put it into (these companies’) leases that they have to hire UCR students” to fill part-time positions.

Chou then opened the floor to questions for Henry from ASUCR members. CHASS Senator and 2017-18 President-elect Aram Ayrapetyan aired his concerns about potential reductions in student workers’ hours, saying that business might be pulled away from UCR-run eateries to the new locations. Henry responded by saying that any loss would probably be offset by the new companies’ willingness to expand their hours of operation — “I’m not going to stop them from opening on weekends,” he said — a move that has proved profitable to other third-party food providers on campus, such as Subway. Latitude 55, for example, would become “a far busier location than we can make it on our own” with the addition of The Habit, Henry said.

Ayrapetyan also raised the issue of food insecurity on campus, saying that many students may not be able to afford the high prices of brands like Hibachi-San. Henry acknowledged this, but said he felt that Dining Services was obligated to cease raising prices in the food court, since student meal plans have also become more expensive in recent years. Replacing the current food court locations with outside parties, he suggested, should help to alleviate this problem. He also stated that the new outlets would not be able to raise their prices above those they charge off-campus and that food court prices would not be allowed to increase more than three percent per year without a sufficient explanation from the companies.

In response to questions from other ASUCR representatives, Henry also confirmed that the new locations would accept Dining Dollars and that summer construction in the HUB would occur in increments, so as not to shutter the entire facility. He also said that no students were involved in the process of overhauling the food court, but that presentations like the one he was putting on should serve to garner a helpful response.

Henry went on to announce that the Barn would be closed in December of 2017, then reopened after undergoing “some pretty significant renovations.” The parking lot behind the restaurant will be replaced with a large patio that will hold 160 seats and a new outside stage area will be constructed. The timetable for reopening is not clear at this time.

Hinderaker Hall’s Ivan’s coffee shop will also be renovated and expanded at approximately the same time, according to Henry.

With no further questions, Henry stepped away from the podium, allowing Chou to steer the meeting into reports from ASUCR senators and the executive cabinet.

After a general discussion of ROBOCOP, a new campus safety program that UCR is currently seeking to implement, President Shafi Karim discussed a campus initiative to set up vending machines at the HUB and Health Center to provide subsidized sex-safety kits for students. A fleshed out plan and budget for the project should be ready within the next two weeks, he said. Karim also announced that, by the end of this spring, the HUB will offer free feminine hygiene products, making UCR the first California college to do so.

Highlights:

  • Undocumented Student Programs’ last event of the school year — a Senior Celebration meant to commemorate “all of our undocu grads this quarter,” according to a USP representative — will take place on Wednesday, May 24 from 5-7 p.m in HUB 355.
  • Multicultural Conference this Saturday from 10-4:30 with South Asian Federation and the Black Student Union.
  • Wednesday, May 17: Concert put on from 6-8 p.m. by Asian Pacific Student Programs featuring Grammy-nominated producer staRo.
  • Malcolm X Celebration Day on Thursday, May 18 from 12-2 p.m. at the Bell Tower welcoming those interested in rapping, singing, poetry and spoken word.

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