Penn State students offer ideas for revitalization of State College West End

jvanderk@centredaily.comOctober 17, 2013 

— Penn State students are taking a crack at ideas to improve the West End, something the borough has discussed for decades.

Students in a university course are researching and developing ideas for the area between South Atherton and South Buckhout streets as part of a new partnership between State College and Penn State. The borough has identified sustainability projects to meets its goals, and Penn State students will be a resource to plan and complete them.

A borough plan for the area has stalled in recent years. The Borough Council in 2011 tabled indefinitely plans to address retail and residential uses there, also asking the Planning Commission to reconsider the area’s urban village zoning. Ferguson Township has developed a design plan for its section of West College Avenue.

Offering their own findings and ideas to the Planning Commission on Thursday night were students Jessica Lock, Lauren Stokes and Nastaran Tebyanian. Their class has considered information in the borough’s 2007 West End Revitalization Plan and recently approved downtown master plan, and Penn State’s master plan.

Some of the ideas are improving connections between the West End and campus at four observed locations, expanding into the West End the downtown master plan recommendation for a pedestrian and bicycle focus on Calder Way, and creating a West End identity.

Tebyanian detailed the observation areas. Along West Campus Drive between university graduate student housing and the West End, she noted, there are elevation changes and other barriers to pedestrian access. Between North Patterson and North Sparks streets, she said, there is also a need to define walking and biking access, as well as make visual improvements.

Gill Street and West Campus Drive also do not offer a good connection between the borough and campus, Tebyanian said, but should because Gill is named as a bike route in the downtown master plan.

Finally, conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles at Atherton Street and West Campus Drive must be addressed.

“It’s important because this is considered the connection point between the West End and Penn State and downtown,” she said. “The gateway is kind of hidden.”

Another idea to improve non-vehicle access was to expand on the downtown master plan’s focus on those transportation modes on Calder Way. The students suggested using the entire length of the alley, which runs through the West End.

A third recommendation was to create an identity for the West End using branding signage, perhaps similar to the colorful block lettering recommended for downtown branding in the master plan.

“Or create a totally different identity to make it its own place,” Lock said.

Commission members reacted favorably to the concepts and offered feedback as the students continue to develop ideas.

“The dilemma is, how do we get people across Atherton Street,” said Mike Roeckel. “I like the idea of continuing Calder Way, but that would be even harder because there is no light on Calder Way and Atherton Street.”

Anita Genger said she appreciated that the class picked up on the lack of connections between the borough and campus. Most members agreed that a signage theme similar to that recommended for downtown in the master plan would be an asset.

“My one feeling is, we paid a lot of money for those people to develop the sign,” Roeckel said, suggesting the students might contact the master plan design team to share ideas.

Chairman Evan Myers said he liked the idea of complementary signs.

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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