By Melissa Prentice

Arizona Summer Wildcat

t has been the best of times and the worst of times for the student unions at Arizona's two major universities.

The University of Arizona Student Union, built in 1951, has been losing both money and customers and is in desperate need of repairs, according to a task force report released in March.

But Arizona State University's Memorial Union, four years newer, is experiencing a period of high volume and low prices and has recently completed a 48,000-square-foot addition, said Assistant Director Patricia Saelens.

During the 1992-93 fiscal year, the UA Student Union lost $472,000, said Mike Low, the UA Union's assistant director.

Meanwhile, the Memorial Union has showed a profit of over $55,000 this year, principally from its contracts with Marriott, McDonald's and other retail operations, Director Floyd Land said.

The Memorial Union currently has a 10-year contract with Marriott, he said, adding that Marriott operates a Taco Bell, a Pizza Hut, a convenience store and a 12-restaurant "Grand Marketplace" in the Memorial Union.

At the marketplace restaurants, customers can purchase Chinese food, chicken, sandwiches, pasta, bakery goods and serve themselves from potato and salad bars, Saelens said.

Marriott also operates Union catering and food services in residence halls, she said.

The Memorial Union serves as a landlord to McDonald's and Bahama Buck's, a shaved ice stand, and operates a bowling alley, she said. Private retail operations in the Union include a Hallmark gift shop, a hair salon, a travel agency, a movie theater and a flower and balloon store.

Two ASU students said they feel the fast-food restaurants are the most popular in the Union.

Karla Shelton, a nursing junior at ASU, said she always eats at Taco Bell and Pizza Hut and was surprised that UA didn't have any "popular restaurants."

"The Union is a lot more popular because of Taco Bell and McDonald's," said Alex Burrell, an industrial design sophomore and employee at Bahama Buck's. "Everyone comes here eventually during the day now."

The University of Arizona has considered adding private restaurants, said Saundra Taylor, UA vice president for student affairs. In the past, the process has gone as far as getting bids from McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King, she said.

Taylor said it would cost 50 percent more than anticipated to remodel the lower level to accommodate these restaurants, so the plans had to be postponed. She added that the addition of Domino's Pizza, the UA Union's first attempt at privatization, has been very successful.

Chris Driscoll, an ASU journalism senior and editor in chief of the Summer State Press, said he feels the UA Union can be more successful without privatizing.

"The food (in Memorial Union) is bad and very costly," Driscoll said. "Marriott is taking a big gouge out of everyone's pocket. I'm sure that (ASU) could run the Union for cheaper."

Frank Farias, the director of the ASUA Bookstore and a member of the task force, also said he feels privatization is unnecessary.

"It is assumed that the reason our market was declining was because students are going off campus," Farias said. "We're basically saying we can't compete with them, (but) I think we can do it."

According to the UA Student Union Task Force established by Taylor, an aging facility, lack of financial support from the university and an expensive administrative service charge have caused financial problems for the UA facility.

The UA Union paid the university a service charge totaling 6.5 percent of their budget, or $807,700, during the 1992-93 fiscal year, according to the task force report. The Union only received $164,100 from the UA during that time, resulting in a net loss to the UA of over $640,000, according to the report.

The service charge for the 1993-94 year has increased to 7 percent and will continue to increase incrementally to 10 percent by the year 2000, the report stated.

"Most campus auxiliaries pay a service charge to offset the services they receive from the university, such as accounting and being allowed to operate on campus while others are not," Taylor said. "(But) many people feel the fees exceed what the auxiliaries get in return."

The task force report suggested reviewing and changing the Union's service charge, an idea Taylor said she supports because the service charge is "taking all of the Union's profit so it can't reduce prices to be competitive or reinvest to improve the building."

UA President Manuel Pacheco said the Union's service charge is currently being reviewed.

Meanwhile, Land said the Memorial Union pays ASU 6.35 percent of the Union's budget. However, he said the Union only pays a service charge on the overall operation of the Union and because most services are contracted to private operations, the Union's operating budget is small. That means the amount the Union pays to ASU is also small, which will total about $105,000 based on this year's earnings, Land said.

The Memorial Union has the advantages of being newer and having the support of ASU President Lattie Coor, Land said, adding that in the past, the companies under contract agreed to pay for remodeling and improvements as part of their contracts.

"The UA Union just hasn't been a priority," he said.

Saelens said she felt the Memorial Union was built to be more functional than the UA Student Union.

"Memorial Union was constructed in a usable, friendly way," she said. "I like that you can walk in the doors and you have a good view of what is here by looking at directories and monitors."

Meanwhile, according to the task force report, the UA Union's recent financial problems have led to a "general degradation in quality, service and ambience of the facility." ~mid~ Student surveys have shown the Union is losing customers because they feel the prices are too expensive, not because they dislike the food, Taylor said.

Low estimated 14,000 students eat in the UA Union daily, compared to Saelens' estimate of 25,000 at ASU.

"The UA would benefit from renovating the Union and adding more student-oriented eating places," said Jill Trumbull-Harris, an undeclared sophomore at the UA. "They need to give students more incentive to eat on campus. They should either offer cheaper food prices or a meal plan."

Taylor said because of the loss of customers, the Union had to raise prices to "meet the spiral and break even."

Troy Curtis, a broadcast junior at ASU and an employee at McDonald's in the Memorial Union, said he feels having more than one business compete for customers results in lower prices.

"Here (at Memorial Union) you have choices and other prices to compare with what Marriott offers," Curtis said.

Saelens said the Memorial Union administration has "helped vendors listen to what students want to spend." As a result, she said most of the vendors offer a lunch special for less than $3.

The average sale at the UA Union is also under $3, but the cost of a full meal would be more expensive, Low said.

But high prices are not the UA Union's only obstacle to success. The task force also reported that "the (UA) facility does not conform to prevailing building and life safety standards, is seriously inadequate regarding disability access and suffers from essential deferred maintenance needs."

The task force criticized the Union's "patchwork approach to solving problems" by using buckets to collect water when the roof leaks, fixing floors with mismatched tiles and using new wallboard to cover structural damages.

Taylor said the first priority is to create an external board of students, faculty and community members to oversee the activities of the Union, as suggested by the task force. The committee should begin determining long-term goals to reinvest in building improvements and be more competitive to attract more customers to the Union, she said.

"We have no choice but to ensure the safety of the Union," Taylor said, adding that she is currently working with UA Risk Management to install fire alarms and clearly marked exits and to make sure there is no exposed asbestos.

The UA Union has been without an official director since Bob Ernstein announced his resignation in late March. Taylor said a national search for a new director began in late May. The three-to-four-month process of forming a committee of students and faculty will take place over the summer, she said, with a new director possibly in place in six months.

An estimated $750,000 is needed for the repairs suggested by Taylor and the task force, the report stated. But there is no money currently set aside and money for repairs must come from the university all-funds budget, Taylor said.

The UA recently gave the Student Union about $500,000 from the all-funds budget, said Joel Valdez, vice president for business affairs.

Taylor said although the money allocated to the Union is $250,000 less than requested, the Union can request more money after developing a strategic plan. However, the Union's debt, safety problems and the possibility of remodeling to attract private restaurants will "more than eat up the money from the all-funds budget," she said.

But safety is not a primary concern at the Memorial Union, unlike its UA counterpart.

Saelens said her priorities include replacing furniture in the Grand Marketplace to increase its capacity, replacing kitchen equipment and providing better technology such as video equipment and screens for the meeting rooms, she said.

"It is important that the Union is aesthetically pleasing," Saelens said. She said Memorial Union leaders plan to replace tile, so the floors in the old and new wings match, and also replace furniture and windows.

"Before making a decision about how to use every space, it is decided what would be its best use, and hopefully it is not always a service people have to pay for," Saelens said. "A lot of our decisions have shown that we are committed to the purpose of a Union, to provide a comfortable environment for students."

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