Downtown State College Master Plan: ‘Vision’ includes brightly colored signs, new slogan

Next year, borough visitors may see brightly colored signs directing them to parking lots, Schlow Centre Region Library, bike racks and other downtown destinations.

Installation of such way-finding signs is one of the short-term projects recommended by the design team of the downtown master plan, completed in June and set for a Borough Council vote of approval Aug. 19.

The plan offers dozens of recommendations and project ideas on five themes: marketing the district, navigating the district, connecting the district, living in the district and managing the district.

Design team members Tom McGilloway, of Mahan Rykiel Associates, and Tripp Muldrow, of Arnett Muldrow and Associates, led periodic discussions with the council, the public and other local groups, and presented the final draft of the plan in July.

As part of the “navigating the district” theme, an initial way-finding project is included in the borough’s Capital Improvement Plan for the next five years, listed in 2014. The estimated project cost is $335,000.

Other projects planned for the next five years are improvements to the intersection of South Allen Street and College Avenue in 2015, College Avenue improvements west of Atherton Street in 2016, additional way-finding improvements in 2017 and College Avenue improvements from Atherton to University Drive in 2018.

The total cost estimate for those projects — many of which are in what the design team labeled the “traditional downtown” core — is just less than $10 million.

“The hope is, once residents and businesses see something physical, that would encourage more development and more support moving forward,” said Alan Sam, the borough’s master plan project manager.

Costs for other recommended projects vary widely. For example, the Allen Street Promenade project is estimated to cost $1.3 million. That concept includes paving the street with brick and making it flush with the sidewalk, occasionally closing the street during evenings, weekends and/or special events, and experimenting with temporary “pop-up” cafes in street parking spaces.

Some have expressed concerns about closing the busy street, particularly business owners.

Borough planning staff member Meagan Tuttle said it’s important to remember that, though the council will vote on whether to accept the plan in its entirety, “that doesn’t mean all of the projects will become projects.”

If the plan is accepted, projects will be discussed in more detail, related to cost, scope of work and which organizations will be involved. About half of the plan’s projects would take place outside the borough or in partnership with Penn State and the Downtown State College Improvement District, both partners on the master plan.

George Arnold, executive director of the DSCID, said he favors the Allen Street project, as well as the branding of College Avenue as “the best college street in America,” with banners identifying “town” and “gown” and other features.

“That’s a great vision for our town,” Arnold said. “I think it would just make downtown all the more the kind of place that people want to come and enjoy.”

Sam and Tuttle agreed that those projects would be beneficial, and Tuttle compared the Allen Street idea to Charlottesville, Va., which offers a six-block pedestrian-only area in its downtown.

“It’s very functional, very lively and the businesses on it are doing very well,” she said.

Community branding also is a large part of the plan, with a new logo representing downtown State College — but not the borough as a municipality — with “downtown” in blue, green, yellow and red blocks, “State College PA” on a blue ribbon and a new slogan underneath: “Discover the best times of your life.”

The DSCID will be in charge of the branding changes and Arnold said his organization is pleased with the concepts and, in part, favored hiring the design team because of its branding work in other communities.

Some of the concept advertisements using the slogan are a photo of Penn State’s Downtown Theatre Center with the line “Performing the Best Times of Your Life” and a photo of Rinaldo’s Barber Shop with the line, “The Best Trim of Your Life.”

Arnold pointed to the flexibility of the slogan.

“They really worked to put together a slogan for us that has broad appeal and can be used a variety of different ways,” he said. “If we have alumni coming into town, we can say ‘remember the best times of your life’ or ‘relive the best times of your life.’ ”

Borough staff plans to host a “fun” public unveiling event for the master plan and Tuttle said there will be many future opportunities for the public to get involved in project development.

“I just want to stress that adopting this plan is good because it lays out a vision,” she said. “Adopting this plan today doesn’t mean this is going to be set in stone.”