CUNY Approves Starbucks Lease Despite Student Protests

Students protesting at meeting.

The CUNY Board of Trustees voted on Monday, in favor of Hunter College’s proposed lease with Starbucks despite backlash from protesters who disrupted the meeting several times.

“This propaganda does not fool students!” one person shouted shortly after the meeting started.

“Remove J Rabb!” another person said, referring to the president of Hunter College, who was present during the meeting and is in favor of the lease with Starbucks.

The vote comes after a period of opposition from FREE CUNY, an activist organization that advocates for a cost-free university. Individuals from FREE CUNY say that with this plan, Hunter’s administration is supporting corporate interests rather than serving its students.

Despite requesting transparency and input on the agreement over the past few months, FREE CUNY say the administration has not been cooperative. Following months of action, including attending a public hearing last week, they considered the Feb 3 protest an “emergency action” because it was the final chance to be heard before the board voted on the Starbucks deal, said Briana Calderón Navarro, a senior at Hunter College who is a part of FREE CUNY.

The lease agreement allows Starbucks to construct and operate a branch of their store which will occupy 1,959 square feet on the ground floor and 1,000 square feet on the lower level of Hunter’s west building. Lasting 10 years and eight months, the lease provides the coffee giant the space rent-free during construction. Hunter will contribute up to $411,390 in construction costs over a 30-month period. Hunter will receive more than $5 million in rent from Starbucks during the course of the arrangement. Rental fees are at or just below market value.When the Board finally came to the vote on the Starbucks deal, protesters stood up and filled the room with booing and yelling.

“Students over Starbucks! People over profit!” they chanted.

During the meeting, Raab said that the area in question “was originally built as a retail place and has been consistently used as a retail space,” prompting some participants in the meeting to question if the Starbucks would actually benefit the students at Hunter College in some way.

Rabb said that the Hunter administration has been working on scholarships and that Starbucks agreed to a job fair. She also added that Starbucks will support students by utilizing the restaurant walls to display student artwork and by contributing food items to a forthcoming food pantry at Hunter College.

One board member, Timothy G. Hunter, made a motion to move the vote to another board meeting.

“I think that there needs to be a little more clear communication with the Hunter students” said Hunter, the only student member on the CUNY Board of Trustees.

He was overruled and the board ultimately voted in favor of the lease, upsetting the members of FREE CUNY, who refuse to back down.

“This is not final, Starbucks still has to agree to the deal.” said geography major Robin Marshall. They plan to have a meeting on Friday to figure out their next steps.

Hunter officials did not respond to The Athenian’s request for comment on the decision.

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