Property Owner Wants to Lead State College Downtown Expansion
A State College property owner wants to take the lead in expanding the downtown business district and is seeking the borough's help to make the plan a reality.
Jeff Haas, owner of 538 E. College Ave., which is the site of Kildare's, is asking the borough to consider altering some ordinances, such as building height requirements, to allow for commercial and residential expansion on College Avenue.
Haas says the request would help ensure completion of the borough's long-term downtown master plan, which includes redeveloping College Avenue from Garner Street to University Drive.
If the borough approves ordinance amendments to allow development in what is called the East End Collegiate District, Haas says he would construct a mixed-use, multi-floor building for retail, student housing and professional housing at the site of Kildare's Irish Pub. Haas says Kildare's would likely be incorporated into the project since it's a successful business.
During a borough planning commission meeting Wednesday, Haas and Alan Schlossberg, who works for the architectural firm Perkins Eastman, proposed potential changes to borough ordinances.
The trick, Schlossberg and Haas say, is altering existing ordinances that limit parking and allow developers to erect taller buildings. Currently, the district has a 65-foot height restriction.
By raising the height limit to roughly 150 feet, developers could create buildings featuring first-floor retail space, a few levels of parking and then several levels of residential space, which would eliminate the need for exterior surface parking lots and maintain levels of revenue from rental units.
Haas says the suggestions are preliminary in order to start a dialogue regarding redevelopment.
Currently, Schlossberg says the district is fragmented and not pedestrian friendly with to much vehicle traffic and not enough pedestrian crossings. The district also features apartment buildings with adjacent parking lots and little commercial activity.
Schlossberg says improving sidewalks, crosswalks and intersections and adding more commercial opportunities in the district could expand State College's downtown pedestrian-friendly experience.
The ultimate goal, Haas and Schlossberg say, is to create a new "gateway" to downtown State College.
Haas' 30-year-old son, Jason, who grew up in State College and is assisting with the project, says young professionals, including his friends, want more opportunities to live downtown. He says this type of proposed redevelopment could create more opportunity for young professional housing.
"This generation wants to be where the shops, the bars, the restaurants are, where everything is. ... People want to be here," says Jason Haas.
Zoe Boniface, planning commission member, says moving forward she wants to see concrete plans for bringing young professionals downtown.
"If I'm voting on a project because we're going to have young professional here ... we don't want someone coming in at the late stage saying 'oh we can't do that now,'" she says.
Jon Eich, member of the commission, says while parts of the redevelopment concept are appealing, he also has concerns, specifically for locally-owned businesses. Eich is concerned the newer retail space with higher ceilings could be appealing to larger, corporate retail chains and too expensive for local, small business owners.
"What kind of pressure are we putting on our independently-owned businesses?" he asked. "It's something we need to think about."
The commission did not take any action and the proposal remains under consideration.