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OU student workers express frustration following sudden closure of Cross restaurants

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Dez Marshall (copy)

Art sophomore Dez Marshall poses outside the recently closed Basic Knead restaurant in Cross Village Sept. 6. Marshall worked in Basic Knead before it closed.

Two days. Dez Marshall learned on July 30 that in 48 hours, her time as a student worker in Cross Village would come to an abrupt end.

Marshall, an art sophomore, worked at the Cross restaurant Basic Knead. Marshall said she loved working at Cross with her coworkers and her supervisors. She did not expect to lose her job there.

Basic Knead, along with nearly every other commercial establishment operating out of Cross, would soon close. OU publicly announced it would not renew its commercial and parking leases for Cross Village on July 31.

In the fall semester, the closures resulting from OU’s termination of the lease agreement have left students paying for one of OU’s most expensive housing options without receiving the commercial amenities they might have expected.

Cross Village was created through a partnership between the university, a nonprofit corporation called Provident Oklahoma Education Resources Group and an on-site property manager called Balfour Beatty, which was replaced by Capstone On-Campus Management in October 2018. Many of Cross’ amenities were not yet available when it opened in August 2018, and it had low occupancy.

Cross was marketed as a luxury housing option for upperclassmen, and the price of living at Cross matches or exceeds many other Norman luxury housing options. But unlike many off-campus housing options, Cross residential units do not have ovens or stoves — residents have access to communal kitchens instead.

Many dining options were located in Cross, including a vegan restaurant, a grocery store, a gelato restaurant and a coffee shop, before it closed. Cross also included a variety of commercial establishments, including a clothing store and cycling gym, many of which are now gone or relocating. Cross still houses a salon called Spruce.

OU paid over $6.8 million to Provident Oklahoma for the commercial and parking spaces in the 2018-19 academic year — in its lease termination notice, the university said the $6.8 million amounts to more than double the market rate for commercial space and almost 10 times the market rate for parking spaces.

Steve Hicks, president of Provident Oklahoma, said in August that OU had agreed to pay those rates because it received a $20 million upfront payment to finance the construction, and the lease amounts were necessary to secure adequate bond financing.

The university’s notice also stated that “demand for the commercial retail businesses was so low that the university obtained only approximately $40,000 in retail revenue,” and dining and parking spaces were not used enough to justify lease rates.

The end of the university’s parking and commercial leases resulted in the relocation of student workers and the elimination of amenities that contributed to students’ desire to live there.

Marshall said the closures were sudden, but her bosses were able to ensure job transfers for everyone who wanted to continue working in OU Housing and Food.

“It was actually pretty last-minute,” Marshall said, “and from what I’ve heard from the people that worked at Cate when it was still open before, that also happened. It was very last-minute — all of a sudden, ‘Hey, you’re going to be working here now.’”

Mikhi Hemphill, a social engineering sophomore who works as a Cross community adviser — the equivalent of a resident adviser in other OU housing options — described Cross’ opening year as “a test run” that “failed.”

“(My residents are) all kind of upset about the food being gone because Cross is expensive, and part of Cross’ selling point was that there’s food right underneath you, there’s a gym right underneath you, there's a salon right underneath you,” Hemphill said. “It's supposed to be like apartment-style living with all the accommodations.”

The elevators that once led to Cross’ restaurants are now not available for use, Hemphill said, and completing rounds with access to only one elevator is inconvenient. Hemphill said his residents’ only options to eat on campus are farther away for residents than Cross’ former restaurants.

“It is inconvenient as a student just because I was expecting (the Cross restaurants) to be there. I was expecting to be studying in the Hive (coffee shop), or grabbing small groceries from the little market. ... I’m really mad that the gelato is gone,” Hemphill said.

A university spokesperson said in August that students who purchased a meal plan but no longer wanted it could be reimbursed, but that may not be enough to raise occupancy in the future for Cross, as the area will still be without its primary food options for residents.

As of Aug. 23, Hicks said, 34.7 percent of Cross’ roughly 1,200 beds are occupied, with rates of up to $13,000 per academic year for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom space, according to LiveOU’s floor plans. These rates are approved as part of the annual operating budget, which is developed by a committee made up of representatives from OU, Provident Oklahoma and Capstone, Hicks said. 

Rates for Cross residents are set unless the committee meets to consider amending the budget, Hicks said. This structure could make lowering rates — one option that could make Cross seem more attractive to students — difficult.

As a new housing option that Hicks described as “state-of-the-art,” he said he would expect Cross’ rates to be slightly higher than the competition on-campus. But the university’s decision to end the commercial lease right before the renewal period has made things challenging.

“The university can take responsibility for there not being dining,” Hicks said. “The university is the one who chose to shut down their dining operations. So they left us with a vacancy right at the start of the semester, they backed out of their lease agreement as of Aug. 1, essentially, and they had moved all of the equipment out.”

Hicks said Provident Oklahoma is working with Capstone On-Campus Management to identify potential tenants for the commercial space in Cross, but any potential tenant would also need to be approved by the university before it could open.

“We just wish that the university would support the project that they had us build for them, that they would just do what they agreed to do,” Hicks said. “We built exactly what the university requested that we build, and now they have turned their back on the project.”

Hemphill said he probably would not have his Cross community adviser position if his residents knew the Cross restaurants would close.

“Most of them have just been cooking in (the kitchen) right now, so I guess that’s how they’re going to try to get by as long as they can,” Hemphill said.

Hicks said Provident Oklahoma is interviewing a parking operating company that may be interested in operating the parking facility. The facility remains open for parking for residents of Cross Village, Hicks said.

Marshall said she is sad to be separated from her coworkers following the closure of the Cross restaurants.

“I’m hoping that they reopen it, kind of like what they did with Cate, but it just seems like Cross and Cate have this unspoken rivalry almost,” Marshall said. “Why can’t they just both exist at the same time?”

Scott Kirker is a letters and Spanish senior and assistant news managing editor for The Daily. Previously he worked as summer editor-in-chief and as a news reporter covering research and administrative searches.

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