Businesses in Smith Center Unclear About Future

Smith Center
Smith Center

Four months after Harvard announced planned renovations to The Richard A. & Susan F. Smith Campus Center, and almost a week after faculty and student working groups released their recommendations, the future of retailers and restaurants inside the Smith Center is still unclear.

Formerly called the Holyoke Center, the central building which houses University Health Services and several ground-floor businesses was renamed in November after a donation from Richard A. Smith '46 and Susan F. Smith. The bottom three floors are set to undergo renovations beginning in 2016, and construction is estimated to be completed by 2018.

Plans for the new campus center are currently underway. The University announced that London-based Hopkins Architects will design the new building with a budget of about $80 million, according to an article in Harvard Magazine. Student and administrator working groups have also met to discuss possible ideas for the center, including food options and student meeting spaces.

Still, current tenants of the Smith Center, such as Al’s Harvard Square Café and Au Bon Pain, are uncertain about how the renovations will affect their businesses.

According to Au Bon Pain General Manager Anup Upaghyaya, the cafe has yet to be contacted regarding the potential impact that renovations could have on their establishment.  However, he expressed a desire to continue doing business in Harvard Square.

“We want to stay open,” Upaghyaya said.

Barry F. Penn, a partner at Al’s Harvard Square Cafe, echoed the sentiment, stating that although he is unaware of any specific timetable, he is hopeful that the University will include Al’s in the plans.

“We assume that they’re gonna contact us and Oggi’s, and tell us what’s in store, or maybe ask us for input,” Penn said. “I really don't know what the plans are or what our participation is.”

Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67, who co-chaired the working group for College administrators with Leverett House Co-Master Howard M. Georgi ’68, said that the committee did not focus on how these businesses would factor into their plans for the Smith Center.

“We actually did not make any recommendations regarding ground floor business that I recall,” Dingman said.

However, Dingman voiced concern about adding a Harvard University Dining Services location to the Smith Center.

“There was some concern in our committee that if HUDS is struggling to make ends meet now, that if they add another operation using the same income base from students, that this could be a diminution in the offerings in the houses,” Dingman said.

For Courtnee A. Benford, a student at the Graduate School of Education, having a HUDS option in the Smith Center is not a priority.

“I like the local businesses, and that it’s not just a straight-up Harvard cafeteria,” Benford said.

Wynne M. Graham ’17 said that the most important thing to her is keeping food options available.

“I don’t have a huge preference,” Graham said. “It’s definitely nice to have some food places here next to the Yard.”

—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Ivan.Levingston@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.

—Staff writer Celeste M. Mendoza can be reached at Celeste.Mendoza@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @CelesteMMendoza.

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