The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 58.0°F | Light Rain Fog/Mist

SwapIt.com to Lease W20 Space

By Rima Arnaout

News Editor

The space on the first floor of the Student Center last leased by Newbury Comics may be occupied once again -- this time by a startup music company called SwapIt.com.

MIT’s real estate office and the Campus Activities Complex are close to reaching an agreement with SwapIt.com that would put a music-testing kiosk in the Student Center. Individuals from SwapIt are currently writing a business proposal, which will be discussed with MIT by the end of the month.

“People in MIT’s age group usually have a surplus of CDs,” said CAC Director Phillip J. Walsh. SwapIt.com, which launched its web site just last Tuesday, is a company “looking at the bartering, or swapping, side of the internet ... The company swaps out products someone may not like for products they would like,” Walsh said.

A mailbox for swapping CDs will be put near Toscanini’s Ice Cream next week, and the company will profit by charging a two dollar fee for buying the used CDs.

Student-friendly store chosen

Walsh believes that the real estate office has come to understand that the Student Center serves the student community and therefore must have student-friendly retail spaces.

“The fun lounge atmosphere is appealing to students ... and returns something to the real estate portfolio,” said Assistant Director of Business and Financial Services Peter D. Cummings. “Part of the framework of the concept is that they want to participate in supporting student events,” said Cummings, who believes that SwapIt.com may sponsor student events directly.

“We were very cautious of corporate sponsorships before, and I see [a relationship with SwapIt.com] as a way of crossing the boundaries” between retail and student life, Cummings said.

Although students have advocated that the empty student center space be turned into a lounge, Walsh said that the space must be leased to a retail store.

According to Walsh, reservations about the stability of the new dotcom startup have been quelled somewhat by the fact that the SwapIt.com entrepreneurs are familiar with the MIT campus. One is the daughter of an MIT graduate, and worked with MIT in managing Newbury Comics.

“Dotcoms have a very fast life,” Walsh said, but “the individuals involved are experienced and successful in this area.”

Faculty members refers SwapIt

The CAC and MIT’s real estate office have been trying to lease out the open space since Newbury Comics left in the summer of 1998. Newbury Comics’ “business plan didn’t match up with their being here any longer,” Walsh said.

Finding a company to lease the space has proved difficult, Walsh said, because of its size. “Recently as part of our effort, a faculty member referred [SwapIt.com] to us,” Walsh said. “They were interested in securing a small dropoff and pickup point in the building,” about the size of a mailbox.

Aside from the mailboxes in area colleges, SwapIt.com “is also looking at another way to approach the [young adult] age group in mall kiosks, where they can test CDs and games,” Walsh said. “What if you took this kiosk idea and put it in a college environment?”

Representatives of SwapIt met with MIT, including the CAC’s advisory board, composed chiefly of students, three weeks ago in the Student Center to assess the possibility of using the Newbury Comics space.

Before engaging in talks with SwapIt.com, MIT considered renting the Student Center space to a juice bar company, a venture capital company, and a standardized test help center. MIT also considered working with the Admissions and Information Offices to create a visitor center, but upcoming changes to Lobby 7 will serve that role.

“I’m happy that the space isn’t staying vacant, and I’m glad MIT is working to fill the space. However, I think that SwapIt.com will need to work very hard to make itself part of the MIT community, and I’m excited that they seem willing to put their energies into this,” said Andrew D. Montgomery ’01, a member of the Undergraduate Association who was involved in talks with CAC regarding the space.

Video arcade may be replaced

The video arcade space in the basement of the Student Center may also be leased to a new company within the coming year. The arcade, which generated about $130,000 a year of profit for MIT ten years ago, now makes about $20,000 a year. The profit from the arcade goes towards CAC Program Board’s budget.