State College

What will happen to the Fairmount Building? State College mulls redevelopment plan for area

Delta to say goodbye to Fairmount Building

State College Area's Delta Program will move to a brand new building this fall, leaving behind years of history at the Fairmount Building.
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State College Area's Delta Program will move to a brand new building this fall, leaving behind years of history at the Fairmount Building.

With the State College Area School District planning to eventually part with the Fairmount Building in downtown State College, the borough wants the building to become a “linchpin” in a new plan to redevelop it and the surrounding area into an arts, cultural and civic hub.

Borough staff laid out the early stages of a plan for the Fairmount Civic District at State College Borough Planning Commission’s Aug. 22 meeting. In it, the area between West Foster Avenue in the north, South Allen Street to the east, West Fairmount Street to the south and South Fraser Street to the west would become a redevelopment area aimed at increasing artistic and cultural activity, walkability, small business development and young professional and workforce housing.

That area contains 23 tax parcels and a total of 12.04 acres, and could potentially include a “surplus property” of the Fairmount Building, said borough planner Jenna Wargo. Nineteen of the 23 parcels fall under the Local Historic District and are subject to Historic and Architectural Review Board review for any major changes or demolition, she said.

State College Borough has the right of first refusal on the Fairmount property, said borough Planning Director Ed LeClear, a period that lasts three months. That means the borough has the option to enter into a transaction for the Fairmount Building with SCASD, before the school district approaches a third party buyer.

LeClear said borough staff has toured the Fairmount Building, has an appraisal on it and has talked with the school district about its interest in the building as part of a civic district. Though the borough thought the school district would part with the building earlier, SCASD has said it wants to use the building for at least another year, he said.

Additionally, the Redevelopment Authority set aside funds in its budget to hire a design team to do a feasibility analysis of the Fairmount Building, he said. The borough is still deciding what uses it wants to test for the building, he said, given its ADA-unfriendly design and challenging layout.

Initially part of a 2007 Fairmount Civic District Certified Redevelopment Area Plan, the current Fairmount Civic District proposal would be an extension of the Allen Street Civic District, which rests on a plan to redevelop the 200 block of South Allen Street into a town centre. Once the borough bought the former Verizon building at 224 S. Allen Street, the plan was set into motion and the area includes the U.S. Postal Service building, the First National Bank drive-thru, the former Verizon building, the Allen Street parking lot and the current Verizon building.

“This transition zone from downtown to residential (in the Fairmount Civic District), this is going to be a hot topic area,” said Wargo. “That’s something we’re going to have to think about when we create this plan and what’s an appropriate use that can go in this area.”

In order to certify the Fairmount district as a redevelopment area, Wargo said planning commission would need to complete a redevelopment area plan and approve certification as a redevelopment area, the Redevelopment Authority needs to come up with a proposal to submit to planning commission, and planning commission would recommend action to borough council, which must hold a public hearing before approving the proposal. Upon approval by council, the RDA has authorization to take action on the proposal and may select the developer, whose contracts are subject to approval by council.

The proposed Fairmount Civic District fulfills much of the criteria for a redevelopment area, Wargo said, due to land use that isn’t pedestrian-oriented, a lack of open space, building arrangements that cause sight issues for vehicles and pedestrians and undesirable land use. Surface parking lots and alleys make up almost 23% of land in the Fairmount district and sites are arranged with an emphasis on vehicles, not pedestrians or cyclists, she said.

Fairmount Civic District should “complement” the Allen Street Civic District, she said, by expanding the transitional part of town as an arts, cultural and civic hub for the community. It should build on “entrepreneurial activity in town” by creating space for small business growth, like guiding start-ups or business incubators. Additionally, she said, it should create opportunities for professional and workforce housing in the town’s core.

“That’s really where a lot of young professionals want to be,” she said. “They want to be in walkable downtowns hopefully where they can walk to work, be home, and still have a vibrant downtown.”

Planning commission is considering the criteria needed to designate the area for redevelopment.

“I think part of this process is going to be having a meeting with RDA, planning commission, neighborhood residents and sort of figuring out what we would like to see come from this area,” said Wargo.

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