UWSA set to cut costs with upcoming budget

Major changes to Soma Cafe, Stylus magazine pending

The UWSA is proposing a number of cost-saving meausures like cutting Stylus magazine to a quarterly publication, and closing Soma down during the summer. The draft budget also proposes increasing wages of part-time UWSA staff by 50 cents. Katie Haig-Anderson, UWSA vice-president internal, is excited about the changes happening at Soma. Dylan Hewlett

Several University of Winnipeg Students’ Association services, including Soma Café and Stylus magazine, are set to face cost-cutting changes in the coming year, according to a recently approved student association draft budget. 

The draft spending blueprint, released by the UWSA board late last month, recommends Soma Café close over the summer and that Stylus, an alternative arts and culture magazine, be scaled back to a quarterly, rather than a bimonthly, publication.

The budget is amenable to changes through student consultations and could be amended before the spring annual general meeting.

In addition to the summer closure proposal, which the UWSA predicts will save $10,000, The Uniter has learned Soma is slated to move to Lockhart Hall, where Diversity Foods’ Café Bodhi operates.

“We worked out an arrangement,” university president Lloyd Axworthy confirmed last week, adding a pharmacy meant to serve the new Athletic Field House on Spence Street will be moving into the current Soma Café location in the Duckworth Centre.

“It will give Soma a real central location with a lot of students.”

Katie Haig-Anderson, UWSA vice-president internal, said the relocation has been met with the approval of retail manager Chandravani Sathiyamurthi as well as a majority of the organization’s board of directors.

“We are excited to re-imagine Soma in this new space and continue to provide good food, student jobs, and community space,” she said.

Soma has been a key subject of debate over the past year.

Since opening in 2008, the café has lost $200,000, which led the 2010-2011 UWSA executive, under former president Jason Syvixay, to recommend its closure at the UWSA’s AGM in 2011.

“Soma is losing too much money to be considered financially sustainable,” the executive wrote in a letter to students last year, which mentioned growing competition from Starbucks and Stella’s Café as a major factor in their recommendation.

The letter added that closing Soma, which ran a deficit of $49,000 in 2011, would make a significant dent in the overall deficit of the organization, which was then pegged at $160,000.

However, students voted to keep the café going for another year at the 2011 AGM. As a result, this year’s executive was tasked with ensuring its financial viability.

As part of that mandate, the UWSA sought the advice of local business consulting firm SEED Winnipeg Inc.

It will give Soma a real central location with a lot of students.

Lloyd Axworthy, president, University of Winnipeg

However, the partnership between the UWSA and SEED Winnipeg fell through when the consulting firm decided that working with Diversity Foods, the main food provider on campus, as well as Soma, was a conflict of interest.

“In the end, that didn’t work out, but we’re moving forward with looking at our business plan,” said Haig-Anderson.

This year, Soma is slated to lose more than $38,000, precipitating the decision to close during the summer and re-open in a new location.

As for Stylus, Haig-Anderson estimates that changing the magazine to a quarterly will save $10,000.

“I think that it will still be able to achieve its goals as a magazine and still feature new music, and local music and still support CKUW,” she said, adding that the effects on the four part-time staff will be marginal.

Other highlights of the budget include raising the wages of part-time UWSA staff by 50 cents and committing more money to the community garden project.

The UWSA recently changed its budget process, whereby the organization holds several open consultation meetings and creates a draft budget before approving a final budget and presenting it at the spring AGM for information purposes only.

The previous process ensured that amendments could be made at the AGM if enough students supported a particular budget change.

Online budget surveys about the draft budget are open for students until March 11 and are available at http://tinyurl.com/UWSA-Budget.

With files from Amy Groening

Published in Volume 66, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 7, 2012)

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