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‘Summers on Allen’ Pedestrian Plaza Won’t Happen in 2020

The Summers on Allen project has been postponed with an eye toward implementing the temporary pedestrian plaza in downtown State College next year, organizers said on Thursday.

Planned for May 11-July 3, the project would have closed the 100 block of South Allen Street to traffic and created a ‘pop-up park,’ with seating, a stage, children’s play area and a lineup of entertainment and activities throughout the nearly eight-week period.

But with concerns and uncertainty about the spread of COVID-19 over the coming months, the Centre Foundation Executive Director Molly Kunkel and Groznik PR’s Brad Groznik, who are organizing the project, and Downtown State College Improvement District Executive Director Rob Schmidt  said it was clear planning would need to be put on pause.

“It’s with a heavy heart that we announce the postponement of Summers On Allen this year,’ they said in a statement. ‘Due to the unpredictability and the seriousness of the current health crisis, we cannot in good conscious plan a community outdoor event for May and June.

“We continue to believe in the vision of a vibrant pedestrian plaza downtown that brings our community together and celebrates its vitality. Later this year, we look forward to begin working with our downtown business community and local leaders to consider the best way to move this vision forward in 2021.”

For the plaza to move forward in 2021, it would again require approval by council, borough communications specialist Douglas Shontz confirmed.

State College Borough Council last month canceled all approved special event permits through May 10, but said it would revisit whether to cancel activities beyond that date. Council’s next meeting is on April 13.

A long-discussed idea, the pedestrian plaza was first proposed for 2018 when Centre Foundation received a grant from the Knight Foundation for the project, but taken off the table when organizers said they needed more time for community engagement. A proposal was brought to State College Borough Council last fall and after multiple discussions and public comment, it was initially voted down in December by a 4-3 margin.

After two of the no votes left council at the end of 2019, the proposal was introduced again in January and approved 5-4.

The project aims to draw more people downtown during what is typically a slower time for businesses. While most public comment at council meetings was in favor of the proposal, a few individuals and business owners said they were against it. Four Allen Street businesses said that they believed it would be damaging, and that the street closure would instead drive their customers away.

They filed a lawsuit seeking to have council’s approval overturned, arguing that council violated the home rule charter in the way it brought the proposal up for a second vote. Borough Solicitor Terry Williams, however, said that it was valid to consider the proposal again because it was a new matter before a new council, not a reconsideration. 

After approval, organizers formed an advisory group and held community brainstorms to develop specific plans and activity schedules.

‘We want to thank everyone who contributed their time, energy and support to this project—particularly the borough council and staff, Knight Foundation, the downtown business owners and employees, and the hundreds of community members who attended our workshops, volunteered their time, sent us emails and stopped us on the street,’ the statement on Thursday said.