Student leaders are demanding that GW prioritize locally owned shops when setting contracts for retailers who will move into the planned office complex along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Four locally owned eateries, including Froggy Bottom Pub and Thai Place, will move off campus or close their doors for good when the University razes seven properties in 2014. Student Association senators said they worry the new retailers on the first floor of the complex would resemble upscale chains like those at The Avenue, and passed a bill Monday urging GW to pick mom-and-pop shops for the new slots.
Multiple retail spaces will open up near I Street in the next several years at the Pennsylvania Avenue complex, the Science and Engineering Hall and a $130 million residence hall commonly called superdorm.
But students say it will be tough to strike a balance between businesses that cater to professionals in Foggy Bottom and students’ desire for affordable options.
Senior Associate Vice President for Operations Alicia Knight said the University will begin exploring options for the Science and Engineering Hall’s retail space in mid-2013. She said GW will match retailers with the market demand, adding the Science and Engineering Hall’s retail has to be “student and neighborhood-serving” as outlined in the 2007 Campus Plan, which lays out the next 20 years of University development.
Student Association Vice President for Community Affairs Patrick Kennedy said locally run businesses like Mehran Café and Thai Place “define the neighborhood. “The restaurants must move out by 2014 but most do not know where they will be relocated yet.
“Those are the kinds of places that people remember: the places that are memorable and unique to Foggy Bottom,” Kennedy said. “If alumni see a bunch of chains popping up in place of the establishments they grew to appreciate as a student, this is a campus they can’t recognize.”
Kennedy, who was recently elected to the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said businesses like Whole Foods and Circa are too expensive for the average student’s budget, and that the University needs to subsidize inexpensive eateries so they can survive on campus.
Knight said small, upscale businesses can thrive on campus without GW’s help, pointing to Tonic Restaurant as an example. After speaking to student leaders about their concerns multiple times over the past semester, Knight said she was surprised the bill came to the floor, but added that she will keep the conversation going with students.
Students also said non-chain establishments could help students feel greater ties to campus after graduating, fueling a stronger alumni donation rate.
Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Michael Morsberger said he did not think the type of retail would impact donations.
“There are so many great things about GW and its campus that keep our alumni engaged and attached, that I’d be hard-pressed to say that old or new retail experiences will deeply affect someone’s inclination to give,” Morsberger said.
Director of Campus Support Services Nancy Haaga, who oversees GW’s dining, said the University and students like chains because their products have reliable quality and taste.
“That’s the beauty of brands. It’s done the same the first, the second, the thousandth time. Clearly, that’s an advantage,” said Haaga, who said she would not have a direct role in choosing GW’s future retail options.
The Square 75A project, which has also drawn opposition from neighbors for intensifying traffic and disrupting local residents, will go before the city’s zoning commission in January for a second time before GW can begin work on the project. The University will hire a developer to foot the bill for the project, similar to The Avenue.
Sarah Ferris contributed to this report