This article is part of the Daily Trojan‘s supplement issue, “If you build it, will they come?” This semester’s supplement focused on the impact of the new Ronald Tutor Campus Center and University Gateway apartment complex, both of which will open this fall.
In his eight semesters at USC, Fabian Salas, a senior majoring in accounting, spent a lot of time exploring Los Angeles. He spent little time, however, exploring his own campus.
“There have been semesters where I was working weekends at Leavey [Library], but most of the time I would just not be around campus if I didn’t have to be because the campus is always pretty dead,” Salas said. “When I didn’t have to work, I knew I would have a better time going out to other places in L.A.”
Salas is not the only one who feels this way. For years, students looking for weekend entertainment have had to look elsewhere — campus has been a virtual ghost town on weekends. But with the opening of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, that could be about to change.
Administrators hope the addition of the campus center this fall will finally create a central, on-campus destination that students have been missing since the closing of the Norman Topping Student Center and Commons in 2008. When it opens, the campus center will include meeting rooms, performance venues and food options, and will hopefully host a number of student organizations’ events.
“I really believe this building will transform the word ‘community’ at USC,” said Jason Cruz, project coordinator for the campus center. “[It] will become the hub of activity, and I think people will start saying, ‘Meet me at the campus center.’”
For the past two years, student organizations have relied solely on Bovard Auditorium, Ground Zero Café and classroom lecture halls to host events and performances, and some have found it difficult to find an appropriate venue.
Alexa Ekman, president of the USC College Republicans, said finding a venue for events has been very challenging. Ekman tried to book a room three months in advance for the group’s biggest event of the year, Teach-in to Oppose Obama’s Radical Transformation of America, but had to settle for a room in Taper Hall instead.
Ekman said it is disappointing to bring important guest speakers to campus only to have them greeted with a classroom lecture hall, rather than a more welcoming venue.
“It’s fine to have regular meetings in classrooms or smaller settings, but when you have a nice speaker, guests who donate to your club and people who travel to see your event, you want to host it in a really nice environment,” she said.
According to Heather Larabee, assistant dean of students and director of Campus Activities, the campus center will make it much easier for organizations that have had trouble finding venues to host events on campus.
Aja Heisler, director of external communications for the USC College Democrats, said the group is excited because the campus center will offer neutral venues.
“Usually we can find a venue, but last weekend we held something at the USC Hillel Center. That could have possibly been misleading to people because our events are in no way associated with religion, they were just nice enough to let us borrow the area,” Heisler said.
Cristina Pandol, executive director of Women and Youth Supporting Each Other, has also run into issues because of the lack of space on campus.
“We had to hold our self-defense event in Exposition Park, and, being outdoors, we were nervous it would rain,” Pandol said. “With about 150 people, it’s not like we could have just used a classroom.”
Students will be able to reserve meeting rooms, The Forum and Tommy’s Place for free, while the Ballroom will cost money, said Heidi Ippolito, scheduling production manager for the SCheduling Office. Student organizations will also be allowed to utilize the Ballroom for one event for free, except staffing charges.
The campus center will also offer more than 30 meeting rooms for students and will have lounges on every floor.
Visions and Voices currently holds a number of events in Bovard Auditorium, but the addition of the campus center will be beneficial since events can now be held in the Ballroom or The Forum, according to Mary Megowan, program assistant for Visions and Voices.
The Ballroom can accommodate nearly 1,200 people, and can be divided into four sections depending on the number of guests attending the event, according to Bailey.
For some organizations, like USC Spectrum, The Forum offers a much more intimate space.
“We like doing events in Doheny [Memorial Library] because you feel like you really get to be in the same space as the guest speaker, and The Forum will be very similar to that,” said Dane Martens, interim director of USC Spectrum.
Student organizations, such as Program Board, are excited to utilize Tommy’s Place because they believe the venue will help attract more students.
Tommy’s Place offers its own distinct feel with a stage for performances, two pool tables and televisions that can be used by students and faculty for away games.
Adjacent to Tommy’s Place will be the new and improved Traditions, which will be available for all students to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. For those over 21, Traddies will still serve alcohol.
“Our goal is for this area to be one big space. You can watch a live performance at Tommy’s and grab a drink at the bar if you’re over 21,” Cruz said. “The Greek Row is a popular place and we want this to be another option.”
KSCR radio station will also broadcast from new facilities adjacent to Tommy’s Place.
According to Karl Nickenig, KSCR’s incoming general manager, the station hopes to host a live show every Friday from its new location in the campus center.
“I hope it brings more awareness of the local band scene to the overall student body,” Nickenig said.
In addition to live performances, the campus center will host a wide variety of food options, including California Pizza Kitchen, Carl’s Junior, Wahoo’s Fish Taco, a marketplace, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Moreton Fig, according to Kris Klinger, director of USC Hospitality.
Klinger said dining options will be available on the weekends, but the hours of operation will depend on student usage.
Many at USC hope the campus center will provide a common gathering place for students.
“You should feel comfortable here, and that’s the goal of this place — to have all of the communities of the university come together in one location,” Bailey said. “Like a community center, the campus center will bring all the facets of USC together.”