Campus Club closes doors, faces questionable future

V. Paul

Last week, Ted Kruse found himself out of work one year before retiring. He had been a chef 24 years for an 88-year-old University institution.
Packing up a kitchen where he prepared 250 meals from scratch daily, Kruse and his co-workers have until the end of this week to find new jobs.
“It’s kind of a shock,” Kruse said. “I’ve had my plans made. Now I’m uneasy.”
Since 1911 and with more than two decades at Coffman Union, the University’s Campus Club closed its doors Friday. Employees started packing the club up for a Como Avenue storage facility.
The Campus Club is a faculty-run dining facility with 1,200 current and retired faculty members. Members meet for lunch, hold periodic meetings and sponsor fine-dining events.
When the club’s board of directors meets today with University officials, the move might be averted. The board will explore the club’s options to use existing campus dining facilities.
Because Coffman is being renovated, the club needs to move for two years. So University officials agreed in 1997 to find the club a new home.
But a new location has not been found, making a number of people uneasy.
“The University defaulted on the agreement with the Campus Club,” said George Bloom, former club president. “They did not honor their commitment. Now (the club) is packing up, but (it) has no place to go.”
However, University officials have not backed away from their Campus Club commitments, said Bob Bruininks, executive vice president and provost.
Bruininks will present a number of options to the club’s directors today.
“In the next several years, we are committing substantial resources to assist the Campus Club in creating a place and environment to increase the sense of academic community here at the … Twin Cities campus,” Bruininks said. “The real question is whether it makes sense to move forward with this particular option or instead take some time to organize and plan for the opening of Coffman two years from now.”
The plans
At today’s meeting, University and club officials will consider a number of options to ensure the club’s survival beyond the renovation period.
One option is revisiting the club’s original plan. Under the plan, the club would operate during the day on the ground floor of the Dinkydome and at night and on the weekends at the Humphrey Center’s Bistro Restaurant.
But the club’s directors and University officials don’t favor the Dinkydome location.
The building owners want a four-year lease, even though the University wants to rent for only two years. The University is not willing to make the financial commitment, Bruininks said.
Instead, the club would cater luncheons and late-afternoon events to attract new members to an organization made up primarily of retired faculty members.
“I think this is a very exciting, viable plan to maintain and revitalize the club for the future,” Bruininks said.
But without a home base, it will be difficult to mobilize an active membership, said Sean Clerkin, the club’s associate manager. Some faculty organizations have already been forced to find alternative meeting places. Annual catered events have been booked in other venues.
“Most of what the club really is, is kind of a soft thing that’s hard to describe,” Bloom said. “It sends relationships between people. What’s happening here is doing away with the opportunity for people to meet and eat together.”

V. Paul Virtucio welcomes comments at [email protected]