Three storefronts on Bryant Drive and five on The Strip led to $160,000 in earnings from these leases in the last fiscal year, according to an emailed statement from Cathy Andreen, director of media relations.
“When possible and the opportunity arises, we purchase strategic pieces for the expansion of the University,” said Deborah Lane, assistant vice president for University relations, in an emailed statement. “If the properties are leasable, we prefer to have them used so that they don’t run down.”
The University does not intend to purchase buildings in Tuscaloosa with the sole intention of profiting from leasing the property, and properties leased are done so with a focus on the long-term benefits rather than the short-term, Lane said.
“It is never our objective to purchase buildings simply in order to lease them,” Lane said.
The long-term goal is to have vendors who best serve the University community occupying the storefronts, Andreen said.
Rhett Madden, who attended the University for his business degree and now owns Crimson Cafe, said The Strip has gradually deteriorated in quality as new businesses have moved into the storefronts to take the place of more attractive businesses. Crimson Café does not lease through the University.
“Back in the ’90s, The Strip resembled the Strip in Athens, Georgia, where the University of Georgia is,” he said. “Now, it looks nothing like it at all. There was an increased mix of unique businesses that gave The Strip a special identity. Now, it’s looking more like the Summit [in Birmingham].”
The University consented to honor the existing leases when the buildings were purchased in 2007. When the leases expire, the University sends out publicly advertised Request for Proposals that enable businesses to bid for the storefronts.
“It is our responsibility, by law, to survey the market at the time that leases expire and there is no renewal term remaining as specified in the lease, to make sure we have the best situation for the area both in terms of compensation and service,” Lane said.
The lease of Lai Lai, a Chinese restaurant that occupies a storefront on The Strip, will expire by the summer despite thirteen years of business at the current location.
However, Lai Lai, along with other competitors, will have the opportunity to submit a Request for Proposal to remain located in the storefront.
Losing Lai Lai would detract from the Tuscaloosa community, Madden said.
“Losing Lai Lai will be a huge hit to The Strip,” he said. “We’re losing something that is really special.”
The University purchased the two buildings that house the eight storefronts because they are contiguous to campus.
Jaime Naranjo, general manager of Pepito’s, who leases his storefront for his Mexican restaurant on The Strip through the University, declined to comment on the University’s leasing practices.