Talk about a new lease on life.

Now that the University administration has made it free for student groups to rent Palmer Commons, the number of events being held at Palmer Commons has nearly tripled.

When Palmer Commons opened in March 2004, University administrators expected student groups to flock to the new building. Unable to draw student groups away from better-known buildings like the Michigan Union and the Michigan League, though, the cornerstone of the University’s prized Life Sciences Complex sat largely empty for the following two years.

Last July, the University changed the Palmer Commons booking policy to allow University departments and Michigan Student Assembly-recognized student groups to rent rooms for free as long as they don’t charge for attendance.

Many groups have taken advantage of the offer.

From July to December Palmer Commons hosted 294 events. It held just 110 during the same time period in 2005.

The Office of the Provost ordered the change to increase use of the building and to make it more available to the University community, said David Disney, the building’s general manager.

Before the rate change, the building cost the same to rent as the Michigan Union, the Michigan League and Pierpont Commons. Smaller spaces, like the Union’s Anderson rooms, cost $3.15 an hour. The Union Ballroom costs $24 an hour.

Disney said Palmer Commons also owes its newfound popularity to a new catering program implemented last September.

Previously, event planners could only order food from University Catering. Groups using Palmer Commons can now order food from companies including Zingerman’s, Classic Fare and Food Art.

“We’re getting positive feedback on the availability of all those catering choices,” Disney said. “It gives people an opportunity to chose from many different price points and many different menu options.”

The University of Michigan Solar Car Team has begun to use Palmer Commons for its weekly business meeting because of its high tech feel, said Brian Ignaut, an Engineering senior and project manager for the solar car team.

“From my perspective, it reflects the culture of our team,” he said.

If room rentals at Palmer Commons weren’t free, though, the solar car team would probably have looked elsewhere, Ignaut said.

Palmer Commons houses conference rooms, atriums, an auditorium, a classroom and a 3,200-square foot multi-purpose room.

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