Eighteen years after it was first opened in 2000, the food court in the basement of Houston Hall will be undergoing a $15.15 million renovation.
Construction for Houston Market, which is located on the bottom floor of Houston Hall, is expected to begin on May 15, 2018, and conclude by the first day of classes for the fall 2018 semester, Penn Business Services spokesperson Barbara Lea-Kruger said.
There will be new types of food on offer in Houston Market, including a Mongolian grill station and a sandwich carving station. A Market cafe will also replace the Beefsteak seating area. This cafe will serve specialty coffees, gelatos, and small plates of food, and will likely be open later than the other kiosks at Houston.
“It’s going to look completely different,” said Director of Business and Hospitality Services for Penn Dining Pam Lampitt.
After the renovations, the seating and dining areas, which are spatially segregated right now, will be interspersed for students to be able to use the space when the dining area is closed.
“There needs to be a rejuvenation of Houston Hall to try to get more students to be there and to find community and to gather there,” Lampitt said.
The Bon Appétit Management Company will continue to oversee Houston Market, and many of the current food offerings will remain available to students. The sushi station — a favorite among students — will occupy a larger area in Houston Market, and the menu will be expanded, Lampitt said. The pizza and pasta stations will stay the same. A smoothie, hummus, and salad station will replace the Coke Freestyle machine, and PureFare items will continue to be sold out of the Market cafe.
Students looking for a quick meal will also be able to take advantage of a new “grab and go” station that will be located at the center of Houston. The station will provide pre-heated meals that will change daily.
The renovated market will feature kiosk portals where students can place orders and pay for items from the various stations, instead of waiting in line at the cashiers.
“It’s going to be more flexible for students for different uses at different times,” Lampitt said.
Houston Market's $15 million renovation is one of many building projects that the University has approved this year. Earlier this month, Penn announced plans to build New College House West, a residential building that will cost the University a record-breaking $163 million. In early November, the University also announced that the vacant food court on 3401 Walnut Street will soon have seven new eateries that are scheduled to open early 2018.
"I think [the Houston Market renovation] sounds like a productive change," College sophomore Daniel Gonzalez said. He added that he feels the food court's renovation is a more useful change for the student community than spending money on a new college house, but was worried that the new additions, particularly the kiosk portals, might cost many staff members their jobs.
College senior Samantha Myers-Dineen said she is ambivalent about the renovation, citing other important concerns like the lack of funding and space allocated to cultural centers, financial aid for fifth-year undergraduates, and resources for mental health on Penn's campus.
"I don't think it makes sense when there are [other] pressing matters of concern to the student body," she said.