The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) has launched tours of the Highland Pub and the Higher Grounds Coffee Shop in hopes that a new operator can open the space in time for next semester. The site tours took place last week with more scheduled for this month, according to SFSS President Hangue Kim.

The society announced last month that it is considering leasing the space to another food and beverage operator.

“There’s been a number of operators that have visited the space,” Kim told The Peak. “We’ve reached out to the operators as well, people that we think will be suitable for that space.”

In April, the outgoing SFSS board notified students that it would be permanently shutting down all of its food and beverage options effective June 15 due to ongoing financial losses. The Highland Pub and the Ladle were closed prior to the start of the summer semester.

“We didn’t want to see that space — especially that big space within the pub and the coffee shop and the Ladle — not being put to good use,” Kim explained. “I think what we’ve seen is that the best use of the space is some type of food and beverage service for students.”

The SFSS is looking for operators that have experience in the food and beverage industry in addition to experience working with students and a compelling vision to enhance the social experience on campus, Kim noted.

“We’re really interested in their vision on how they’re going to be working with students, but the broader SFU community as well, because it is that central space and we want to make sure that we set up these companies for success, not failure,” he said.

Student opposition

Many students have voiced their opposition to the closure and some have expressed concerns with the plan to lease the space to a new operator.

“Our opinion is that the previous board didn’t go about making the decision in a reasonable way; we don’t like the lack of consultation and the closed session,” explained Kiko Blake, an executive with Save the Highland, a student club formed following the announcement of the closure last semester.

“Our position on what should be done with the space is that what the students want is what should be done.”

Save the Highland member Corbett Gildersleve told The Peak that he is concerned that leasing the space to another operator might not work.

“Any company that comes in, they’re going to have the exact same problems as the SFSS had,” Gildersleve added. “There’s a lot of finer details that I’m concerned about [that] don’t go away just because we have somebody else taking over the space.”

Save the Highland has been gathering student feedback, including input on what students want to see done with the space, which it plans to present to the SFSS board.

“The closure, this announcement felt way too quick. And my [sic] worry also about [. . .] already looking for people to take over the space is [that it is] a little hasty as well,” Gildersleve said, adding that he feels more information should be released and students need to be consulted.

“If people are frustrated enough to actually organize, that should tell you something,” he said.

Society evaluates options

“We’re still open to the ideas of different uses of the space,” Kim noted. “It really depends on the level of commitment that we see from all these other organizations.”

He explained that the SFSS has looked at different scenarios for using the space and is waiting on proposals from operators to see if they align with the society’s goals.

The decision to scope out potential lessees was not made as quickly as it may seem, Kim said in response to the concerns raised by students.

“In the past year, there were definitely some evaluations on the uses of the space done internally,” he said. “I think it’s the right decision to make at this time. We’ve heard that students are looking for some type of social space that is really student-centric on campus and these agreements take time. If we want some [operator] in there by September, we have to take action.”

He also stated that the SFSS has heard the feedback from students that they want to see more consultation from the society.

“I’ve met with a few students that have expressed concerns. We’re willing to work with them and we’re open to listening to students and seeing what ideas they have for the space [. . .] I think it is important to have that student voice in that conversation,” Kim added.

“I don’t know the exact way that we’ll be consulting with students just yet, we are still developing that. Once we’ve come up with the finalized strategy, we’ll definitely be reaching out to students again,” he said.