Borough Considering Redevelopment Area for Pedestrian-Friendly Improvements
January 09, 2020 2:34 PM
by Geoff Rushton
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State College is considering creating another redevelopment district, this time with the goal of expanding pedestrian-centered infrastructure in a portion of the downtown.

Dubbed the Glennland-McAllister Certified Redevelopment Area, the area being considered is bounded by Calder Way, East Beaver Avenue, Humes Alley and McAllister Street. Within the proposed district, there are 10 tax parcels with 44 addresses on 3.95 deeded acres.

At the State College Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday, borough planner Isabel Storey said the redevelopment would expand pedestrian space, widen sidewalks and add lighting, greenery and public art. 

The goal, Storey said, is to balance pedestrian and vehicle needs through the area.

State College's 2013 Downtown Master Plan identified Calder Way as one of four streets with the most potential for enhancement as a service and infrastructure corridor that has attractive storefronts and some public art, but with a need for expanded pedestrian-centered infrastructure to be considered a "shared space."

"A lot of feedback on Calder Way wanted us to emphasize the pedestrian-centered, funky character of Calder Way overall," Storey said.

The improvements, Storey said, would provide more attractive access to businesses in the district and create a "complete street" beneficial to all users.

"We believe these goals will help to bring balance to Calder Way as a street for everything: pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles, service trucks and infrastructure," Storey said.

Borough planning director Ed LeClear said that Calder Way has historically provided some traffic relief for College and Beaver avenues, but that its primary function is as a service and utility corridor. Balancing those needs with a pedestrian-friendly character is the biggest challenge, he said.

Those functions are also why Calder Way won't become pedestrian-only.

"We get a lot of feedback that we need to close Calder Way and make it pedestrian only, and we can’t do that," LeClear said. "Very simply, it has a function it needs to perform."

Redevelopment of the area also will likely involve extensive utility work, including digging up part of the street for a larger sewer conveyance system as well as coordinating other utilities.

Planning commission member Anita Genger asked why West Penn Power won't bury its utilities underground. 

"This has been an ongoing issue for over a decade," LeClear said. "West Penn considers us rural and as such they have policy related to their transformers needing to be open to the sky and have a five-foot area around them... they don’t seem to be inclined to change that unless we pay for it all.

"This is a thorn in our side on redevelopment. Every private project that has come in downtown since I’ve been here has railed against this issue because mostly these developers are building buildings in other urban areas in Pennsylvania where they are allowed to bury the transformers."

Humes Alley forms the western border of the proposed Glennland-McAllister Redevelopment Area in downtown State College. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

Beyond the proposed redevelopment area, the borough has already been looking to redesign the entire length of Calder Way from Hiester Street to Burrowes Street. That is intended to include new streetscape and sidewalks, but will begin with subsurface utility work. The 2020 budget earmarks $250,000 to begin design and planning for the project.

"Our goal would be to eventually do a design for the entirety of Calder Way," LeClear said. "It may not all be constructed at once because of funding but if we have a coherent design for the entirety that we can start doing in pieces, [the redevelopment area] will feed in to that discussion because it’s really the heart, I think, of the pedestrian part of Calder Way."

LeClear said borough staff hope to see a comprehensive undertaking, but noted that coordinating all of the utilities along with the street design will be complicated and "fairly Herculean," so the borough is looking at retaining a project manager and design professional to guide the entire process.

"This is a generational opportunity," LeClear said. "If we dig this up it’s water, it’s sewer, it’s fiber, it’s electric, it’s stormwater."

For the redevelopment area, planning commission member Mary Madden expressed concern that enhancing the business opportunities on Calder Way and other streets in the district could have unintended effects.

"We can only support so many vacant shop fronts in this town. Right now we have vacant shop fronts on Beaver and College and we have a bunch of new buildings coming on line creating more retail shop front space," she said. "So I’m also just concerned about the market economics of it. It would be really great for Calder to be this cool new space, but then is it going to pull life off of College and Beaver and are their unintended consequences?"

Planning commission member Ron Madrid also suggested businesses fronting the redevelopment area might contribute to the cost of the project.

"That’s going to be a significant improvement to the access to those properties and I don’t think the burden of that cost should be shared unilaterally by residents of the borough," Madrid said.

Chair Zoe Boniface said the planning will need input from businesses in the area and the Downtown State College Improvement District. LeClear added that the borough will seek extensive public input as planning moves forward.

The Glennland-McAllister Certified Redevelopment Area would be the third such district considered or advanced by the borough in recent years. The long-planned Allen Street Civic District, now called the State College Town Centre project, moved forward with two parcels on the 200 block of South Allen Street conveyed to a developer last summer.

Another potential redevelopment area, the Fairmount Civic District, is still in the planning stages.

The Pennsylvania Urban Redevelopment Act requires at least one of seven possible blight conditions to certify a redevelopment area. For the Glennland-McAllister area, Storey said the borough has identified four: inadequate planning, excessive land coverage by buildings, faulty street or lot layout, and lack of proper light, air or open space.

A certified redevelopment area is considered advantageous not only because it formally identifies a framework for redeveloping a specific area, but also because it allows for involvement of the borough's Redevelopment Authority, which can acquire properties, undertake public improvements, enter public-private partnerships and perform other activities for re-planning and redevelopment. 

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