St. Paul Gopher Spot wins national design award

The redesigned student center has already begun to attract more visitors.

Allison Wickler

Once a drab and ignored locale, the Gopher Spot at the St. Paul Student Center is now a nationally-recognized facility the University hopes will attract students to the St. Paul campus.

The newly-renovated Gopher Spot opened in September and recently won an Interiors award from Contract magazine in the sports and entertainment category.

Shawn Gaither, a partner at the Minneapolis-based Studio Hive architecture firm that renovated the space, said a major goal was to fix the traffic flow so the new eight-lane bowling alley, convenience store and game areas could function separately yet as a whole.

They used brighter colors and lighting and took out walls to expand the space.

“In the interior design industry, this is probably as high as you can get,” Gaither said.

Denny Olsen, senior associate director of Student Unions & Activities, said the facility was getting “shabby and rundown” and needed to be upgraded.

Goldy’s Gameroom in Coffman Union typically sees more business, but the St. Paul Student Center usually attracts more non-University community members.

Preliminary statistics show success in attracting more business to the Gopher Spot, Olsen said.

In December, the number of reservations for the new party room nearly doubled from the reservations in December 2005, from 16 to 31, he said.

Megan Sweet, assistant director of student activities, said while student activities cater to both campuses, there are fewer programs in St. Paul simply because there are fewer people.

“In no way, shape or form is there any less effort to reach out to that community,” she said.

Many students who used the Gopher Spot last year, such as fisheries and wildlife sophomore Jennifer Stephenson, have noticed the improvements and said it’s no longer “like a dungeon.”

“The bowling alleys are better than Coffman,” said University first-year student Sam Arntsen. “It’s small enough where we didn’t have to wait (to play).”

Environmental education sophomore Melissa Collins said the old Gopher Spot was nice without anything else to compare it to, but now she uses the facility more than she did last year.

“I didn’t even know there was an alley until this year,” she said, referring to the bowling facilities.

However, some students still take issue with the new facility.

Aerospace engineering sophomore Carl Levine said the improvements are nice, but people probably use the other campus more.

“Still, nothing goes on here,” he said. “People don’t like coming out here.”

Psychology first-year Brandon Baumbach was disappointed the Gopher Spot doesn’t carry toothbrushes.

But first-year dental hygiene student Anne Schoeller, who lives in Bailey Hall, said she doesn’t feel like the St. Paul campus has fewer resources than the Minneapolis campus.

“We could go over there if we wanted to,” she said, “but everything is over here, too.”