Wednesday, April 14, 2021
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Op-Ed: A Strong Town-Gown Partnership Can Transform State College and Surrounding Communities

Editor’s Note: The author, Alvin de Levie, is a candidate for alumni trustee in this spring’s election for the Penn State Board of Trustees. Alumni trustee candidates are welcome to submit commentary on university and community issues by emailing [email protected].

Penn State, State College and the surrounding communities stand poised to seize an epic opportunity to transform Happy Valley through stronger cooperative town and gown relations. Let me explain.

There are plans to demolish the eyesore we all know as the Hammond Building, which was once rated by Onward State as one of the worst buildings on campus.  

The Hammond Building’s proximity to downtown State College presents us with the perfect opportunity to construct a new gateway to the university, one that will serve as a catalyst for the revitalization of the university, downtown State College and all of Happy Valley.

I recently invited Mayor Ron Filippelli, the State College Borough manager and director of planning, and Penn State Trustee Jay Paterno to discuss what I hope will result in a strengthening of effort and cooperation between town and gown. Over the last month, I have spoken with business owners from throughout Centre County about my vision for a new gateway between downtown State College and Penn State. I am optimistic everyone will work together to strengthen Penn State and the community.

I know from a lifetime of experience that strong town and gown relations are precisely what make State College and the surrounding area so special. I was born in Bellefonte, went to the State College High School, graduated from Penn State, practiced in the area for 40 years and recently moved back to State College hoping to play a pivotal role in strengthening town and gown relations. That is one reason why I am running for the Penn State Board of Trustees.

As I drive around State College and down College Avenue, it is all too obvious things are changing. Many stores are closing – casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic. High rises are encroaching upon the State College that drew so many tourists and townspeople downtown. Perhaps due to the realities of the need for tax revenue, State College is losing some of its charm and high-rise apartments abound everywhere. Let us try to reverse this trend.

While some new restaurants and two new hotels, the Hyatt and the Scholar, have come to downtown State College, we need to push hard for continued growth and to strengthen existing businesses, while welcoming others. I encourage the university and State College officials to use this unprecedented opportunity in building a new gateway from College Avenue onto campus on the site of the Hammond Building and west of Atherton Street, where the new “West Campus” is growing. We have seemingly lost the opportunity for the new Palmer Art Museum to be located on the site of the soon to be demolished Hammond Building. Let us not lose other opportunities.

For example, the space where Hammond Building now stands and the area west of Atherton Street may be well-suited for attractions like a skating rink, an amphitheater for concerts and movies, and open space for gatherings that will bring people downtown once again to patronize our homegrown and local businesses. These spaces can be designed so local businesses are invited onto campus to showcase their products. There can be room for local restaurants, coffee shops, and other stores to provide services to students, townspeople and tourists. Space can also be designed for “pop-up stores” and events promoting businesses in State College and the surrounding area. If we are successful we can revitalize downtown State College so it once again becomes a destination for people from all over Centre County and tourists.

I encourage the university to also work with our surrounding townships to join State College in a community-wide effort to make the entire Happy Valley truly happy again.

I firmly believe strong cooperation between town and gown may perhaps allow us to seek state and federal funding, private investment and philanthropy for the development of this new gateway between the university and Happy Valley. 

In these unprecedented times, we need unprecedented cooperation. Part of the Penn State experience for students, alumni, tourists and townspeople alike is rooted in State College and the surrounding communities. We can and must act now to launch the rebirth of State College and the surrounding townships, the impact of which will extend far into the future. 

As a member of the Board of Trustees, I will be committed to work with everyone to put the “happy” back in Happy Valley.