The Student Center is the central hub of campus that provides food, activities and stores used by students to accommodate their everyday lives.
However, some students are upset about the lack of choice the center provides, considering what local businesses could provide.
Lori Stettler, director of the Student Center, said up to 18,737 of 374,752 square feet of usable space in the building is allowed to be privately used. She said this space includes locations such as McDonald’s, the bookstore, ATMs and the arcade area.
“We have a very small window of what’s left available to be used for private business,” Stettler said.
She said because of contracts with businesses such as McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A, the Student Center is not allowed to have other businesses that sell burgers or chicken sandwiches in the center as competition.
Soon, students will be able to voice their opinions on what businesses they want in the Student Center.
Stettler said the center plans to send out surveys in the fall 2012 semester to find a business students would be interested in such as a bank — an option she said students have been requesting.
Stettler said there is always a possibility for local restaurants and stores to run in the Student Center. She said she does not think businesses such as McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A limit the potential for other businesses, and the university requested competitive bids on fast food options.
However, there is no available space for other restaurants,Stettler said, and any businesses seeking to become a part of the center would have to pay a significant renovation fee. She said a restaurant could open in the Roman Room if space is needed.
The renovation would have to allow the restaurant to meet all local codes and health standards, along with proper ventilation and electrical usage.
Stettler said Chartwells, a business that provides SIU and other school cafeterias with food, invested $1.8 million to upgrade the operational side of food services at the Student Center and pay the franchise fees for all the restaurants except McDonald’s. This contract gives exclusive rights to Chartwells and McDonald’s in the Student Center, preventing the setup of food stands and other restaurants not authorized by both companies.
Stettler said in exchange for exclusivity, the Student Center receives commission on sales for both retail outlets and catering.
The contracts have made it difficult for local business owners to get into the center.
Sang Lee, who has owned Chicago Hotdogs and Shrimp on the Strip for 15 years, said he thinks it is important for students to have diversity when it comes to food in the Student Center.
Lee said if given the opportunity, he would like to open a shop in the Student Center, and he is aware of the cost. He said he would open in the center if he could afford to without lowering the quality of food ingredients he purchases. Lee said he makes sure his food is as healthy as possible.
Lee said his business is doing well, but he has seen a drop in dedicated customers over the years. Some people used to drive three to four hours to eat at his restaurant and thinks if he moves into the Student Center, he said, he would see a rise in sales, because it would be more convenient for students.
Limited choices have caused some students to spend their money elsewhere.
Joshua Harper, a junior from Ashton studying marketing, said he used to buy food from the Student Center frequently but has slowed down because of a lack of choices.
Harper said he would like to see the Student Center provide healthier food options and provide more food from local farmers. He said he would also like to see restaurant options put into dining halls.
David Jeong, a senior from Naperville studying accounting, said his class schedule causes him to skip the Student Center and use the dining halls unless they are closed. Jeong said he would like the center to provide healthier options.