Chartwells deal unrest addressed

Newswire photo by Sydney Sanders | Through the new deal with Chartwells, the current businesses in the basement of Gallagher Student Center, including Subway and Blue Gibbon, will be replaced. Construction will commence during spring break of 2018.

Students, faculty and staff filled Arrupe Overlook on Monday afternoon to sit in on the Student Government Association’s meeting to hear Jude Kiah, vice president of Auxiliary Services, discuss the recent deal with Chartwells company to renovate the bottom floor of Gallagher Student Center (GSC). With the deal, which is all but finalized pending any legal issues, Chartwells offers a $2 million investment for renovation in exchange for control over the space and new businesses to be put in place. The meeting came after Kiah sent out an email on Nov. 8 to further explain the deal and offered an opportunity for both SGA and the student body to address concerns with Kiah and other members of the Auxiliary Services staff.

The biggest concerns centered around the options for current student workers at the affected locations, the inclusion of Coffee Emporium in the deal and the process of data collection, or the extent to which student input was utilized in making the final decision, as well as what the future holds for the space.

With regard to the first concern, most notably raised by Senator Sam Peters who will be one of those affected, Kiah explained that all current student workers will become Chartwells employees with comparable hours and wages, even for those who have received raises.

“Chartwells agreed to take on all hourly employees, and we will offer them positions in the new businesses,” Kiah said. “Nobody’s going to lose their jobs.”

Another concern is what will happen during construction, which will begin during spring break of 2018. During this transition period, students who work in businesses that will be closed will still be offered employment. Kiah explained that he could not speak to each individual case but maintained that students would be able to find work and estimated that the time during which the workers would be affected would last four to five weeks.

The questions surrounding the inclusion of Coffee Emporium were vocalized multiple times by junior Josh Menke, who was joined by fellow Coffee Emporium employees, with follow-up or clarification questions coming from other attendees as well. Menke noted several of the businesses in GSC had amassed more than 1,500 signatures for petitions urging Xavier to allow the businesses to keep their leases for the space.

Kiah responded that this had to do with financial viability. Each potential vendor offered an investment and named a specific amount of return necessary. When examining only the current businesses in the basement, the return was not high enough. Because Coffee Emporium draws such a lion’s share of the profits from dining dollars in that space — as much as 40 percent, according to Kiah — it was included in the plan. In other words, the businesses were viewed as a single entity, and it was the total amount of revenue that was considered, instead of that from each individual business.

“The Coffee Emporium piece was because when we approached Chartwells and another company with a lesser amount as well, they both indicated that the business results from Xavier were not compatible with an operationally viable business plan… meaning that they would not help us with the capital, they would not run it, they would not do it,” Kiah said. “So the only way was to draw a larger circle around our retail plan to make it operational, which is another way of saying that each one of the businesses represents what is needed to be charged into the plan.”

This approach also explains why the Coffee Emporium in Smith Hall is included despite not being located in GSC — Chartwells viewed both locations as a single entity, meaning that including one brought the other with it.

In terms of student input, Kiah emphasized that the various surveys and focus groups cited were not the sole deciding factor in the deal. Rather, there were two other financial and practical reasons to do so. For one, beginning in 2005, when smaller businesses began to move in, the contracts did not take into consideration a space for relaxation, nor did they consider maintenance of any equipment. Therefore, Kiah explained, there had long been a need to look for possibilities to renovate the space to accommodate those needs.

The second factor deals with the equipment itself. The kitchen located in the GSC basement was designed for one business but operates under a one-time exemption from the Cincinnati Board of Health. Under this exemption, any changes cannot include the addition of small businesses, and the space must eventually return to operation by a single entity.

Then came the yearly surveys, the responses to which totaled more than 1,100 last year compared to the typical 300-400, and the focus groups.

According to Jennifer Paiotti, the marketing director for Auxiliary Services, the initial focus groups were selected based on a letter sent out to the entire Xavier collective of students, faculty and staff. In that letter was a question about interest in participating in a focus group. Those who responded indicating interest were sorted based on hall, year and other criteria and spent 30-45 minutes in a focus group discussion.

In the spring, a third party sent out another email to the entire Xavier community. Recipients were asked to click on a link to express interest in participating in additional focus groups, and more than 150 responded positively. Again, those who indicated interest were sorted into groups and spent approximately an hour in discussion.

Paiotti said that in general, the data indicated that students wanted more of a living and learning feel to the space, from more made-to-order or fresh daily food options to more ways to use the area to build community.

“You’re looking for a community space, somewhere where you can order on a mobile kiosk, grab it and go sit with friends. You’re looking for a place where you can charge your phone and you can mingle. You can throw your laptop out and watch a video,” Paiotti said. “You can have collective spaces where you can do student group activities, where you can have different styles of catering, whether it is your floor in your dorm room or it’s your apartment. These are the types of places you have asked for. You want variety.”

One of the concerns dealt with the transparency surrounding the deal, and indeed, most of the questions touched upon this topic. In general, students said that they felt like the terms of the deal were not made transparent and that Auxiliary Services did not take enough student input into consideration. With this Kiah disagreed, citing the amount of data collected as well as the number of students surveyed.

“We went about asking every possible question about what do you eat there, what do you want to eat, what do you like and dislike, what are the hours, etc., etc.,” Kiah said. “I’m proud of the transparency we’ve had. In my entire career, we’ve never done more homework.”

Finally, in terms of what the future holds for the space, Kiah stated that the exact details have yet to be finalized; however, Chartwells is allowing Xavier to create its own plan for the space to allow for future adjustments as students’ interests and needs change.

The current agenda is to assemble a team of about six persons, including students, to organize the data from the survey and focus groups and use it to make a final decision about what will replace the current businesses. Kiah stressed the changes to come.

“It will look nothing like it does now. It may look like different storefronts, but essentially it will be one operation, with different types of things in it,” Kiah said. “Students really talked about the need for the space downstairs to be more welcoming and flexible and programmed and the ability to dwell there. We would see that come to fruition — a more opening, welcoming, transferrable space for students.”

Ultimately, Kiah and Auxiliary Services team expressed that the plan is flexible and will ensure long-term viability because of its ability to adapt to student needs.

“All things have menu fatigue, all things, so we want to have an operationally viable situation where we can make changes without having to blow all things up, and so in order to do that, you have to have a platform and back of the house that makes sense to do that, plus an agreement provided that if it doesn’t work, you can change,” Kiah said. “With this agreement, if it doesn’t work, they need to change it.

“We will continue to collect data, both qualitatively and quantitatively as necessary, every year to figure out whether or not we’re approaching menu fatigue. Is it possible that we start with one thing and go to another? Absolutely. It just depends on what our students’ tastes are. We wish to be a national class program, and if it isn’t, we will make it so.”

By: Ellen Siefke ~Managing Editor~