By Happy Valley Staff Writers
In its September 27th meeting, the State College Redevelopment Authority reviewed findings and recommendations from consultant U3 Advisors on bringing more businesses to Downtown State College.
U3 interviewed 35 local stakeholders from government, civic and cultural organizations and institutions as well as property owners and developers, real estate brokers, and business owners. The report details the challenges they cited related to luring businesses Downtown, as well as the opportunities. For example, first- and second-floor retail space below new student housing was left in “grey shell” condition, requiring expensive fit-outs. Further, more Downtown-based student housing and “The Penn State Effect,” (hybrid scheduling bringing fewer Penn State employees Downtown; more on-campus retail and dining available to students; relocation of ARL) is driving a more student-centered retail market. Other challenges include aging business owners and lack of employees.
A detailed analysis of demographic, real estate, workforce and visitor data is included along with peer benchmarking against other college towns. Data on daily visits to Downtown naturally shows a wide swing between less than 400 per day during Spring Break and more than 103,000 per day during football season and illustrates that Borough residents' visits to Downtown are declining.
Short-term recommendations from U3 include:
- Hiring a retail advocate, employed by the Downtown State College Improvement District, to proactively recruit retailers from larger markets and work as a direct liaison between prospective retail tenants and landlords and overcome obstacles related to fit-outs, lease terms and other issues.
- “Activating” vacant spaces through tactics like rotating window displays and pop-up retail events that allow prospective retail tenants to test locations with temporary or short-term leases.
- Elevating the marketing and branding around Downtown State College, from updated wayfinding signage to a more curated social media aesthetic geared toward more mature audiences.
Long-term recommendations—which U3 notes would benefit from broader, more comprehensive efforts focused on the Happy Valley region—include:
- Consolidation of COG (Council of Governments) into a City of State College (“The fragmented COG structure is weakening the growth potential of the Happy Valley region by making it more difficult for new businesses, Penn State, residents, and others to navigate multiple jurisdictions. A consolidated City of State College would allow for key strategies and investment in the innovation ecosystem, business recruitment, affordable housing, and infrastructure. It would also allow for a stronger position within the state government and increased access to critical public funding streams. Regional planning and targeted investment will diversify and strengthen the Happy Valley economy and provide increased opportunities for existing residents.”)
- An improved pedestrian and cycling infrastructure with improvements to lighting, wayfinding, façade and signage regulations.
- More programming and events Downtown targeted to residents, especially during time periods when Penn State classes are not in session.
- A strategic plan for Happy Valley’s outdoor recreation assets that highlights restaurants, breweries, lodging and retail opportunities Downtown.
- More aggressive marketing around State College as an ideal destination for families, retirees and visitors, focused on larger metro areas in PA and neighboring states.
View a full copy of the report here.
To Downtown State College
To Happy Valley
Brothers Bar & Grill set to go across from Champs Sports Grill
Figo Italian Coming to 330 W. College Ave.