An optometrist’s office has been selected to replace Travel Cuts in the student centre, between Union Market and the pharmacy.
The decision comes after considerable effort by the McMaster Students Union over the past year to gather student input on what kind of business should get the main-floor space in MUSC. A proposal for the MSU to push for a grocery store, which was the most popular choice of a poll on the Students Union’s website, was brought to the MSU’s General Assembly in March, though there was not quorum at the Assembly at the time of the vote.
The decision was made by the student centre’s Board of Management, which includes representatives of both the MSU and the University.
The optometrist was one of four businesses that responded the call for expressions of interest by the Board of Management in December. Each of the others were expansions or relocations of services already existing on campus. Proposals were received from the McMaster Credit Union, the Athletics and Recreation department and Compass Information Centre.
The same group that owns the dentist’s office behind the Travel Cuts space will own and operate the optometrist. The two offices will likely share the storefront that faces the main seating area in the student centre.
Despite having received proposals only from McMaster and MSU organizations, MUSC director Lori Diamond said that a request for expressions of interest was sent to current vendors, vendors who have expressed interest in the past, the Westdale Business Improvement Area (BIA) office and other universities that might have interested vendors.
Although a grocery store was not among those businesses that responded to the Board of Management’s call for expressions of interests, Grocery Checkout Fresh Market was brought in informally to discuss the possibility. Grocery Checkout has locations in the student centres of both Queen’s University in Kingston and Western University in London.
Representatives explained that Grocery Checkout’s operation would require the space of both Travel Cuts and the University Centre Pharmacy next door.
At the time, the Pharmacy and MUSC were in negotiations over a lease renewal. With the Shoppers Drug Mart going in across Main Street and the Pharmacy’s place in MUSC somewhat up in the air, the possibility of using both spaces for a grocery store was open.
Last December, the Pharmacy was asked to suggest a rental price for a new deal. The Board of Management countered with a different number. The counter-offer remained on the table for the few months that followed.
At around the same time as the March 25 General Assembly, then-MSU president Matthew Dillon-Leitch talked with Diamond about the possibility of a grocery store using both the Travel Cuts and Pharmacy space. It was between that discussion and the April meeting of the MUSC Board of Management that Diamond informed the MSU that the Pharmacy planned to accept the Board’s counter-offer.
“I don’t think it’s in good faith in terms of projecting a good business environment that it really would have been all that moral or ethical to pull [the contract offer to the Pharmacy] back because we had potentially another offer for that space,” said Diamond.
There were a couple of key reasons behind the choice to go with an optometrist, said Diamond. Bringing in a third-party vendor, rather than a business or service of the MSU or University, guarantees revenue for MUSC. An optometrist also does not duplicate a product or service already offered in the building.
Assistant News Editor
The Travel Cuts location at McMaster closed its doors in the Student Centre (MUSC) not long before the end of first term. Now, it’s space next to Union Market is up for grabs.
When Travel Cuts closed, it promised students that its services would still be offered from an alternate location.
Travel Cuts been in existence on campuses throughout Ontario since the 1950s, and was owned for the majority of that time by the Canadian Federation of Students, a student lobbying group, with the goal of providing discounted travel rates for students.
According to McMaster Student Union (MSU) president Matthew Dillon-Leitch, Travel Cuts made the decision not to renew their lease contract with the University, as they are currently in the process of downsizing. They are removing their on-campus locations from several other schools as well.
The MUSC management team is currently receiving proposals from prospective businesses and services who have interest in renting the 500-square-foot space.
Ideas are pouring in for what should go in place of Travel Cuts. But as Dillon-Leitch pointed out, “there are restrictions in the student centre on what we are and are not allowed to place.”
Rarely do students have an opportunity to give their opinion on such an important matter, admits Dillon-Leitch. “It’s a fun chance to get it right.”
A decision facing the MSU is whether they want the space to house a business of their own creation or to allow the space to be leased to a private vendor. The first option involves financial risk, while the later forgoes any potential profit or significant control.
Prior to the final decision being made, Dillon-Leitch would like to launch some further initiatives to find out what students would like to see in the place of Travel Cuts.
Suggestions include retail, a food outlet, a grocery store, banking locations, extra seating space and a coffee shop. Student input will help differentiate between the proposals set forth, or drive management to search for further options.