Executive Chef Geraldo Calderon offers a variety of sandwiches during the soft opening of the new Binghamton University MarketPlace at the University Union.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
A toast to The Binghamton University MarketPlaceTweet
While hundreds of staff, students and faculty are taking advantage of the “soft opening” of the new Binghamton University MarketPlace this week, those involved with developing the concept as well as designing, building and managing the 18-month, $8-million renovation came together Tuesday for their own taste test.
President Harvey Stenger welcomed about 100 invited guests who meandered throughout the 15,000 square-foot space sampling food from the 12 different stations. “I no longer have to look out my window every day asking when is that MarketPlace going to be done,” he said to laughter. “This really symbolizes the extinction of an important species on campus – the delivery man.”
Brian Rose, vice president for student affairs, told the crowd that the new space resulted from three things:
• a conversation with students about what they wanted from the food court space that could be accomplished;
• a conversation with corporate partner Sodexo Campus Services about wanting to create a space that would truly serve the campus community; and
• the planned renovation of the north end of the University Union to add administrative and student services offices and a hallway that would connect the University Union and University Union West.
“We were going to build a $1 million hallway, and this seemed like an opportunity to do something more and to create an iconic space,” Rose said. “I hope you’re all as excited as I am about this place. What we have all around us is exactly that kind of community space ─ a campus town square where you’ll always find someone you know.”
The MarketPlace will evolve based on what the students want, Rose added. “We hope students will think of creative ways to use the capacity and the space,” he said. “Will all 12 concepts work? We’ll have to figure it out and continue to try to make the space current.”
Rose said that The MarketPlace will help in new student recruitment as well. “Candidly, when we’re bringing potential students to campus, this is the kind of space we want to show off and it says we are a premier university nationally.”
Rose thanked a number of individuals and partners: Auxiliary Services and Educational Communications staff, corporate partners including Barnes & Noble for refurbishing the bookstore to coincide with The MarketPlace opening, Coca Cola and the Sodexo team, especially Sodexo District Manager Paul Kerns for bringing the initial concept to the fore. Of particular note, Rose thanked Physical Facilities’ Senior Project Manager Dell Sargent. “I’m fussy and he did an extraordinary job.”
Vice President for Administration James Van Voorst joked that he learns something new from every project the campus undertakes. “On this one, I learned that President Stenger doesn’t like green fences. I had a note: ‘Check the status of when the fences are coming down.’”
Van Voorst asked attendees to think back to what the space they were standing in used to be. “A food court with low ceilings, hard chairs, busy, crowded, noisy. Very institutional,” he said. “Then think of the Susquehanna Room and how that filled another need – from the 1950s maybe?”
The opportunity to update and upgrade turned into reality primarily because of the partners we have and the people who took the time to get it right, he said. But just as three things came together to prompt the project, there were three challenges to overcome. With two other projects happening in the same place, staging for all the projects was difficult, staying on schedule proved challenging, but the biggest challenge was the six-foot difference between the old and the new. “We got together and worked it out and we ended up with a product like this.
“They’ve made it seem like it’s all one space and it all flows,” Van Voorst said, before thanking Bearsch Compeau Knudson Architects and Engineers, Connor Architecture, Fahs Construction Group and the University’s Physical Facilities staff for their good work.
Next up is to further involve students in dining operations and setting a vision for the future, said Rose. “Sodexo brought an idea to us to create a Student Culinary Council that will kick off this semester and be led by Jill Shotwell, one of the founders and student managers of BU Acres.
Noting her excitement at the opening, Shotwell said The MarketPlace “absolutely surpasses all expectations I’ve had, and the food is so good!
“So much student input was involved in creating this space,” she added. “There were surveys and meetings with campus communities. So much effort was put in by everyone here.” Beginning this semester, the Student Culinary Council will hold weekly meetings and continue to involve students in planning for projects like this, she said.
Stenger then asked everyone to raise their champagne glasses (which were filled with green strawberry-banana smoothies) as he made a toast: “In honor of all who worked on The MarketPlace and in memory of the leaning tree,” he said. Then he challenged everyone to eat from every station before leaving.