Vacancy in Lower Place Riel hits USSU facilities budget

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Only four days after the University Students’ Council approved a new renovation budget, Strata Development has already started demolition to divide the space where the Campus Computer Store was formerly located.

The “division of space” renovation is projected to finish by February 2019, at which point the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union will have lost eight months worth of rent revenue at minimum. When asked about the loss, the USSU said they were unable to comment on the exact amount, according to tenant confidentiality.

The front section of Room 20 in Lower Place Riel that will be undergoing renovations.

USSU general manager Caroline Cottrell says that the facilities budget projected a surplus of $331,842 for the 2018-2019 year, which will absorb the loss in rent revenue and still leave an extra surplus. However, Cottrell was unable to comment on the exact amount.

On Nov. 22, the USC approved spending $204,058, accommodating extra funding for taxes, from the USSU Infrastructure Fund to make adjustments to the unoccupied 3400-square-foot space. This division will accommodate three tenants to lease the space across from the food court as early as spring.

Stefanie Ewen, facilities manager of the USSU, says she had difficulty securing tenants early on because they were “overwhelmed by the size of the space” as the rental pricing is determined by the square footage.

In May 2018, the USSU received a notice of vacancy from the Campus Computer Store, a tenant on lower level of the Place Riel Students’ Centre for a decade. Since then, the USSU has approached potential retailers to occupy the space, and as of last week, has secured the optometry clinic Campus Vision with a five-year lease to occupy 1600 square feet.

The return on the investment may take between three to five years, according to Cottrell, but it depends on when they are able to lease the remaining space, totalling 1800 square feet.

Campus Vision expressed interest in only half of the space, which led the USSU to consider dividing the space into three separate rental units. Ewen says that the scope of the division project will mainly consist of rerouting the electric, separating the spaces with fire-rated walls and setting up plumbing for Campus Vision.

“Right now, … we are opening it up for new tenants. When they come in, they can better visualize what they have to work with,” Ewen said. “We are making the empty shells, so they can fit up [the units] for their needs.”

The back space of Room 20 in Lower Place Riel that will be undergoing renovations

The USSU is limited in terms of which retailers can occupy the space as the building cannot support another food vendor due to the capacity of the ventilation system. Cottrell says that the vision of the USSU is to house only non-athletic and non-academic functions in the Place Riel Student Centre.

Currently, the USSU is in negotiations with another unnamed retailer for the smallest space of 300 square feet. Apart from a Momentum Clothing pop-up store during Welcome Week, the space has remained empty since June 2018, but Brent Kobes, vice-president operations and finance, says that they might pursue further pop-ups.

“We want to make sure our lines are fully up to what their projected level is, and we’ve been diligently looking for tenants throughout the year,” Kobes said. “In the meantime, we have found [people] that have taken up the space for small leases at a time … to try to mitigate that cost.”

Nykole King / Web Editor

Photos: Riley Deacon / Photo Editor