Sparks fly: The Bomber update  

WUSA logo
Katherine Bradshaw
Communications and Media Relations Manager
Thu, 10/10/2019 - 10:15

At Students’ Council this past Sunday, Seneca Velling – your WUSA Vice President of Operations & Finance – shared a proposal for the repurposing of The Bombshelter Pub space. We know this is an update many of you have been wondering about, but before we get into it...  

For new students who may be out of the loop on all “The Bomber” talk, check out your outgoing VPOF’s annoucement from December 2018, when their doors officially closed, as well as the Board of Director’s letter to Students’ Council [external link] on the closure and renovations to the space.  

Alright! Now that we’re all caught up, here’s the latest. 

As promised by your former VPOF, your current VPOF has made this project a priority, working diligently to pull together recommendations for the space. After surveying over 3,000 students, Seneca presented Students’ Council with preliminary research on a few business concepts that they then voted on. This has now set the direction for Seneca to put together a business plan, set to include more detailed construction targets, financial reviews (including operating cost assessments) and estimated timelines. 

We do want to emphasize however, that this is still very much in the preliminary stages. This business plan will help to narrow the scope of our focus, but this concept still requires student input and engagement, as we look at how to bring this to life in the longer term. Council voted, and in so doing, set the direction as to which we’ll now look further into. 

Check out the full report [external link] or read below for a breakdown:

1) Status quo 

Same old, (mostly) same old. This option would’ve been an attempt to continue operating the space in the same capacity as the last decade, but with accommodations to address previous challenges. Despite these considerations, this likely wouldn't have done more than “kick the can down the road” 3-5 years, while failing to address the underlying problems with the business model, management structure, decline of the market share and lack of student traffic. 

If Council had adopted this direction, Seneca recommended a referendum be held on whether students would willingly pay a “Bomber Patronage Fee.” Additionally, Council recommended the Board develop a capital improvement/expansion fund for space renovations as an administered fund, to be dedicated primarily to the Bomber. 

2) Franchise 

Sellout. This option would’ve partnered WUSA with a franchisor to provide a program for students, based on market research and survey results. Hosting a franchise in the space would have resulted in less student control over pricing, menus, product offerings and service lines. On the contrary however, this option would’ve provided students with food and beverage choices that were familiar to them, with an established menu that’s been tried, tested and proven in the existing marketplace. 

Moving forward with this option would reduce student control and “ownership” of the space but would still offer employment opportunities for students. WUSA would see less control of vendors and supply chain than if we ran the business ourselves but would benefit from central support from the company of which the franchise is part.  

3) Lease 

Step right up! A third option presented would have WUSA putting the Bomber space up for lease under the condition that it be for hospitality purposes and cater to the student market. This would generate revenue but would entirely remove student control of the outlet. Leasing would mean the space and future direction could not be changed without notice and the lapsing of a contract. Changes would therefore take more time to initiate than if WUSA owned and operated the space ourselves. 

Like with the franchise option, this would minimize student “ownership,” satisfaction, and control of the space. It would also reduce employment opportunities for students on campus, which are more sorely needed with recent changes to post-secondary education support programs. 

4) Undergraduate Lounge 

SOLD! This option was approved by Council and proposed a social atmosphere lounge experience primarily for undergraduates, with bar and restaurant offerings included. The SLC/PAC expansion referenda, student surveys, and prior SLC space audit outcomes, all reveal an increased demand for student longue and community-building spaces. This concept satisfies that demand by providing students a space to unwind, meet with friends, enjoy food and drink, and prepare for class, all in an atmosphere that despite being on campus, can feel like an escape. This would include a bar, fresh food service, bookable room(s) for student groups hosting events, potentially a board/dining room, open collaborative/social area, potentially games and video entertainment, and small group/individual seating.  

While this is a considerable financial investment in the short term, we believe it provides the best return on investment for the long the term, reducing year-over-year operating costs. This direction would avoid the financial challenges experienced by the prior business operations strategy, while retaining full control over student-friendly pricing, job opportunities, supply chain, and offerings. In addition, this lounge/student space focus, together with a restaurant and some scaled-down bar features, would further address demands for increased student space on campus, in compliance with WUSA Policy 31: Student Space.  

Next steps for us 

With the undergraduate lounge approved by Council last Sunday, focus groups and market strategy sessions will now begin with students interested in reviewing business concepts and providing feedback. With consideration for existing market and sales data, a business plan will be developed for the concept, which will include a full costing analysis, construction plans, management and operations consultations, interior design rendering, and additional professional consultations.

This business plan, along with timelines for the project, will be shared with the Board of Directors for approval and will include any recommendations made by Council following Seneca’s preliminary presentation of the plan. If approved, funds will be made available to accommodate the kickoff of the plan and achieve targets. This could result in an adjustment to fees. Ongoing advisory and management of this project, and other Student Life Centre capital projects, will fall under the Student Life Centre Management Advisory Committee (SLCMAC). 

Next steps for you  

The Bomber is a space many of us grew to love. While we recognize this and will forever look back fondly, we need you to join us in looking forward. What does that mean? We need your help! As Seneca begins to put together a business plan, we want to hear from you. This is your space. Help us bring this vision to life by providing input in a focus group. Sign up to share [external link] your ideas and shape the conversation for how we move forward.  

We don’t just want to hear from you on this though, we want you to become part of it! In the coming months, we’ll be looking to you guys for interior design and architecture ideas in the form of a competition. This is a great opportunity to add experience to your resume, while leaving your imprint on The Bomber, long after you graduate. And most exciting for us? By participating in this project, you’re helping to support student community spaces. We’re here for that.