State College

State College Borough Council considers support of entrepreneurial program

jvanderk@centredaily.comJanuary 15, 2013 

— Young professionals in the borough are looking to start a residential and work program with 16 college students — but it won’t be just any student home.

Spud Marshall and Christian Baum presented their plan for the co.space at Monday’s Borough Council work session, a program they hope will facilitate career paths and networking and, perhaps, resulting in some students remaining in the State College area after earning their degrees.

Council members generally supported the concept, but had some concerns about a request to sign on as guarantor of a loan for the project. Manager Tom Fountaine said borough solicitor Terry Williams will review the plan.

The two 25-year-olds — Marshall graduated from Penn State — work for New Leaf Initiative, the idea incubator near the intersection of West College Avenue and South Fraser Street. The State College co.space already has accepted 16 students, chosen through an application and interview process, who will begin a program this fall of living together with Baum, Marshall, and two other young professionals.

They will seek community mentors for each student and try to encourage a process that allows them to “become friends with State College” while developing ideas together and networking.

“We use the term ‘planned collisions’ a lot,” Marshall said of, for instance, a sudden realization of the career path one should follow. “Typically those are very chaotic events.”

He said he hopes the co.space program will demonstrate a shift in living and working collaborations.

The co.space is an international network of co-living spaces, and the State College version is expected to take place at 244 E. Nittany Ave., a home owned by the International Friendship House. Scot Chambers, a local real estate agent and project adviser, said the IFH was looking to sell the home, in particular to a social cause.

Chambers said he couldn’t yet publicly go into financial details, but said banks competed to set up the mortgage loan, and that the group has narrowed it down to one. He said the group does not seek money from the borough, but support as guarantor on the loan, which Chambers said is more favorable to the banks.

Planning Director Carl Hess, who has worked with the borough Redevelopment Authority on vetting the project, said, if the project failed, the borough would receive the title on the house, and could sell it to recoup costs.

Councilman Jim Rosenberger said it would benefit the borough to have the house back on the tax roll, because the IFH was nonprofit, and the organization Baum and Marshall formed to operate the co.space is for-profit.

“My concern is the legal cost of the borough getting inolved in anything like this,” he said. However, he added, “I think it’s a great organization, and I wish it full success.”

Councilman Ron Filippelli asked how the group would make money, to which Chambers replied the students would pay rent and a program fee to participate.

“It’s a win-win-win from my perspective,” said Mayor Elizabeth Goreham.

“It brings attention to the intellectual resources we have here. That’s powerful stuff.”

RDA Chairwoman Vicki Fong expressed the group’s support Monday and said such entrepreneurial projects are considered “ecosystems” and are becoming more common.

“It’s going to take awhile, but that’s the concept of the future,” she said.

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