Three Floors of Potential

Erik Boquist, Contributing Writer

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Clark University has a building the size of a Barnes and Nobles bookstore that it is using for absolutely nothing.

A couple doors down from two of Clark students most popular places hangout, Acoustic Java Cafe and Annie’s Clark Brunch, there are two big glass doors in between two big window panes. Above these broad glass doors reads, in faded white paint, “918 Main Street”.

During the day it’s hard to see inside 918 Main Street—the site of the university’s former bookstore—and  during the night it becomes only harder as the street lights beam a reflection on the building’s glass exterior that requires you to press your face up against the windows to see anything. If you did manage to get a glimpse inside then you would see the undeniable potential that I was able witness weeks ago.

In a fortuitous errand running session while working at the Clark Community thrift store, I was given a key into the mysterious 918 Main Street building to help grab some things out of the thrift stores’ storage, which is held in the basement of the building. When I first stepped into the building I was shocked by how big, open and finished the space is. With a ceiling that doesn’t start until the roof of the building it’s easy to see how expansive the space really is.

As I walked from the front to the back of the building, where the entrance to the basement was, I couldn’t help but realize the pretty white columns, artsy metal railing that lined the walk way of the second floor, and incredible potential this space held.

“We could throw such a great party in here!”  I said to my co-worker also moving stuff out of storage. But this place wasn’t some old forgotten warehouse with dirty concrete floors fit for an impromptu rave; it was cleanly painted with endless light-colored wood paneling.

My co-worker agreed wholeheartedly with my notion to party and then explained to me how this space was the old bookstore, but now it’s used for absolutely nothing. This realization started me on a quest to find out more because it baffled me how the college I was paying for wasn’t utilizing a space so huge and so freshly renovated.

This is how I came to find out about the wild bidding war between students, various departments and non-Clark affiliated parties who are proposing what the old bookstore space should be used for.

A frontrunner in the current bidding for the Clark-owned property is Clark sophomore Geva Segal, who is proposing to turn the space into what he calls a “professional ‘WeWork’ style… co-working space.” He explains his proposal is the solution to a bigger problem on campus: a lack of space that encourages people to come together and innovate.

Geva goes on to to express his vision for the space that will offer small professional offices, shared desks for people to work alongside each other, a fully equipped kitchen, and specifically designed creative areas for technology and art-related “DIY” projects.

“My solution requires a physical place, and after talking about my plan with many people, I heard about the old bookstore and I had to check it out,” said Geva.  “Recently, I went inside and I was amazed. It is a perfect place in a perfect location and it can serve many students.”

Clark’s Space Committee, headed by Provost Davis Baird, meets quarterly, and sometimes monthly, to review requests and manage on-going University space considerations. Since the space was vacated in 2016, the committee has entertained many different and viable requests from various departments and outside interests. One of those outside interests comes from Acoustic Java, which wanted to open a vegetarian restaurant at the space.

This proposal was declined along with another big proposal made in December,2016 by Amy Whitney, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

In this proposal it read, “The Graduate School of Management and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program are requesting use of 918 Main Street to establish an experiential learning hub.”

The proposal explained that the experiential learning hub would house the current student-run ventures, support undergraduate Problems of Practice (PoP) courses, and provide co-working and mentorship space for student business incubation among other endeavors.

When asked why his proposal would be accepted when others with similar ideas haven’t, Geva explains,  “The place will be made and run by students for students!”

Geva argues that his plan differs from most other proposals because it requires significantly less operating costs than other proposals after initial investments that would go towards immediate renovations in order to get the space up to modern ‘WeWork’ style office standards.

This renovation process along with the fact that this proposal would not be making the school any immediate income could hurt Geva’s chances at acceptance. When I asked an anonymous faculty member who has been at Clark for more than a decade about Geva’s idea, that person responded had his doubts. “The school wants to put something there what will make money! Important high ranking faculty will be the ones to decide what goes there.”

Also, According to Paul Wykes, Chief University Budget Officer, In 2011, roughly $50,000 was spent to renovate the building and $20,000 was spent in 2006 on renovations. This means the university might be less willing to provide any more funds to re-renovate this building if it means no direct income back.

Regardless though, Geva and many other candidates, clubs, and companies stay hopeful for using the space and developing its potential.