Local developers propose mixed uses at former Arby’s site

A tall building with large, glass windows on the first floor and a mix of commercial, office and residential space is the vision a local development team has for the former Arby’s site at College Avenue and Atherton Street.

The concept is called The Metropolitan and would occupy what partners Heidi Nicholas and Ara Kervandjian and architect John Martin of Elkus Manfredi called a “key corner” and a “gateway” into the community. The trio presented the project during the Borough Council’s work session Monday night.

The proposal in State College calls for restaurants with outdoor seating, office and retail space, and 50 to 60 apartments that could become home to students, especially those from other countries who may be attracted to a location close to Penn State’s campus, faculty, visiting instructors, or anyone else in the community.

The group showed renderings of a green roof on a lower story of what could be an approximately 10-story building, a higher rooftop terrace for use by the businesses in the building, and a grand entrance lobby.

“When we look at this corner, we see an opportunity to build a special building,” Kervandjian said. “In fact, we’ve been contacted by a number of national retailers and restaurants.”

The building site also will include the neighboring Titan Fitness property and sits in the commercial incentive district. Kervandjian said his group will seek the conditional use option of being a signature building, a program that allows for incentives like additional height based on the style of the building and its mix of uses.

He said he’s looking for a height of 145 feet, while the CID allows a maximum of 95 feet. That allowance could allow at least a 10-story building, depending on its structure.

The building also falls under the borough’s inclusionary housing ordinance, which would require five or six affordable apartment units. Kervandjian said he likely will use the ordinance option of locating those units elsewhere in the borough.

Martin explained a similar project his firm helped complete on the edge of campus in Columbus, Ohio, the home of Ohio State University. It took the place of a run down area with empty store fronts across from the university’s law school.

Councilman Ron Filippelli said he had knowledge of that “beautiful project” and asked about rumored difficulties with some of the retail space. Martin replied that space on side streets was harder to lease initially and turned over more often.

Martin anticipated the borough project would fare better “as long as we can front the retail on College or Atherton.”

Some council members expressed concern with the height, and Councilman Tom Daubert asked who would visit the commercial uses other than students.

“They want to be on College Avenue,” Nicholas said of national retailers in talks with Kervandjian. “This is a gateway site. Everyone who comes into town is going to be looking at this building.”