State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Population Growth for Pennsylvania's Fourth Largest 'City'

by on October 24, 2017 5:00 AM

It’s good to see continued population growth in Pennsylvania’s fourth largest city. With Philadelphia having lost 25 percent of its population since its historical high in 1950, Pittsburgh having lost 55 percent of its population since its own 1950 historical high, and Allentown showing a small 13 percent growth since 1950, it was a positive note to the weekend that the commonwealth’s fourth-largest city set a new population record of 110,823. That’s an increase of 366 percent since 1950 – which massively bucks the state’s overall anemic growth rate of 13 percent during the same time.

Of course, the place I’m referring to isn’t really a “city” in the strict definition of the word. But Beaver Stadium on Saturday night certainly felt like the culmination of a multi-year civic redevelopment project.

And if you weren’t one of the 110,00-plus inside the stadium, you likely were one of the 5 million-plus watching the game on television. Either that or you were one of the townies taking gametime as an opportunity to be consumers and get your shopping done while no one was in the stores.

Interestingly, the top local TV market in the United States for the Penn State vs. Michigan football game was Columbus, Ohio, where 17.6 percent of homes with a TV were watching. I can’t imagine why people in Columbus would be so interested in that game, can you?

Saturday was a beautiful day for 110,000 friends to gather together, have some food and beverages, enjoy each other’s company, and pet a few horses (as the mounted police didn’t seem to be needed for crowd control and therefore became great photo-ops). A cloudless mid-October afternoon with a high temperature near 70 degrees gave way to an evening when it didn’t seem to get quite as chilly as forecasted. Either that or 110,000 bodies gave off a lot of ambient heat.

In what made for a great scripted finish to the festivities, the good guys triumphed in dominating fashion. Given the presence in the stadium of one of America’s preeminent television producers and screenwriters (Donald Bellisario), who is known for his shows in which good almost always comes out on top (NCIS, JAG, and Magnum, P.I., among others), it seemed a fitting conclusion to the festivities.

And then the exodus began.

One minor flaw in an otherwise perfect college football Saturday in Happy Valley is there are many hours – in this case all day – to get 110,000 people into parking lots and then into their seats at the stadium. But as soon as the game is over, well, a whole lot of those 110,000 want to leave at the exact same time. The clock winds down, the final whistle sounds, and the mass of humanity heads toward the vomitoria (look it up, it may not be what you think).

Some of those people live locally, but some have traveled hours to get here. From Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg, Erie, Baltimore, or beyond. Some left early that morning, had an enjoyable day, and at 11 p.m. were looking at a drive home that would take several hours, making for a very long day.

With 3,400 hotel rooms in the area, maybe 20,000 of the game attendees spent the night in the area. Another 50,000 live in town or nearby. That leaves 40,000 people who needed to find their way home on the surrounding highways and byways. 40,000 people who, once they exit the parking lots and get on their way, likely hit a bottleneck somewhere nearby — at the single-lane exit from I-99 north onto I-80, or at the single-lane merges on U.S. Route 322 eastbound and westbound.

As far as the bottlenecks at I-80 and eastbound on Route 322 are concerned, just two weeks ago the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County (CBICC) announced it would launch a Drive Forward” campaign to garner community support to fix both these issues. Although I’m certain that the I-99/I-80 high-speed interchange will eventually become a reality, I’m also just as certain that the stretch of Route 322 between Potters Mills and State College will never become a four-lane highway. As I suggested almost three years ago it would be better if they just dug a tunnel through Tussey Mountain.

Granted, post-game traffic issues are common at almost every large football stadium around the country, and especially at collegiate venues that were built on a campus where in the ensuing decades (or century in some cases) the campus has grown around the stadium.

In Happy Valley we are privileged to have a stadium with a great deal of university-owned, wide-open land within walking distance from the stadium. No parking on homeowner’s lawns, golf courses or in parking decks. In hindsight the decision to move Beaver Field/Stadium between the 1959-1960 seasons was a stroke of brilliance.

And while you were sitting in traffic Saturday night (or Sunday morning) with your windows rolled down, waiting to get started on your trek home, you may have heard the sound of planes taking off overhead and thought to yourself, “Boy, if only I could afford a plane it would make this whole trip a lot nicer.” Well, as the old Indiana football coach on sports television is fond of saying, “Not so fast my friend.”

You see, in addition to soaring among the hoi polloi, Penn State’s popularity among those of means is also rising. Between 11:02 p.m. on Saturday and 1:05 a.m. on Sunday, 45 private aircraft departed from University Park Airport. That’s an average of one takeoff every 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Can you imagine having been at the stadium in your suite, then your driver takes you to the private terminal at the airport, you board your plane, sit back in your seat, and the captain informs you you’ll be taxiing for a bit because you’re number 32 for takeoff?

Not to mention that starting around 9 a.m. on Sunday another 50-plus private planes took off that day as well. Geez, you have enough money to afford a jet share (or a complete jet) and you still have to wait in line. What’s this world coming to?

But, as I said, it certainly is nice to see the upward population trend and Beaver Stadium getting back to that “fourth-largest city” status. If that means waiting a few hours after the fact, well that’s a small price to pay for the privilege of watching those outstanding student-athletes perform.

John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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