|By Adam Smeltz, The Centre Daily Times,
State College, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Jan. 27, 2007 - STATE COLLEGE -- It would be a College Avenue landmark: a nine-story building with a boutique-style hotel, rooftop gardens and owner-occupied condominiums.
An upscale restaurant would fill the top floor, retail space and an open-air pedestrian mall would be at the street level, and a basement parking garage would accommodate many dozens of cars.
The concept plan, introduced to the borough Planning Commission this week, is a redevelopment vision for the 400 block of East College Avenue.
"It's exactly what our downtown needs," commission Vice Chairman Charles Gable said Friday. "It's a very, very innovative, progressive, forward-thinking design."
He and other commission members had abundant praise for the idea, presented Thursday by landlord Herlocher Properties.
Charles C. Herlocher, a longtime borough businessman, owns the land and the existing buildings, some of which would be leveled to make way for the project.
The new structure would be among the taller buildings in town. It would be bounded by the existing Greenwich Court complex to the west, Sowers Street to the east, East Calder Way to the south and East College Avenue to the north.
Two current landmarks -- a McLanahan's store and Baby's restaurant on Garner Street -- would be untouched.
But about a half-dozen other businesses, including the Cell Block nightclub and the Herlocher-owned Sharkies Bar, operate in buildings that appear to be in the path of the new project.
A lease for the Cell Block started in September and runs for three years, General Manager Joe Yamma said. He said it was too soon to say if the club may move.
An effort to reach Herlocher Properties on Friday was not immediately successful.
Ed Olsen, a Bellefonte architect working on the plans, said the new project is probably a couple years away. If the plans gain borough approval, he said, the building may be complete by 2010 or 2011.
Olsen said a goal is to revitalize the eastern end of the downtown and broaden its appeal to reach non-student demographics.
"We'd like to bring more (mature) activities down that way, which would help all of the businesses," he said.
A building design shows that upper floors would be set back from College Avenue to create a sense of openness, according to people familiar with the plans.
Olsen said the second through eighth floors could hold as many as 150 hotel rooms and some owner-occupied residences.
He said the planners are weighing whether to seek certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for the whole building.
"I think the intent of the Herlochers is to do a very high-quality facility that does include many of these LEED items, such as roof gardens," Olsen said. He said plans show about 10,000 square feet of roof gardens and patios on upper levels.
There may be, however, at least one stumbling point.
Current zoning on that block would not allow a project of the scale envisioned by the Herlocher group.
If the project is to materialize, the Borough Council will first need to add that area to a commercial-incentive district.
The commercial-incentive district, approved in 2005, already covers about 10 square blocks downtown. Borough rules allow taller buildings in the district if those structures include environment-friendly designs, underground parking or other special features.
Several Planning Commission members, in interviews Friday, sounded likely to endorse the Herlocher project.
"It has a lot of positives going for it," member Evan Myers said, "because it brings people downtown who are going to spend some money, who are going to add to the flavor of the town."
Borough leaders, faced with near-stagnant tax-revenue projections, have been trying to draw more business and owner-occupied housing into town. Fraser Centre, a complex planned for South Fraser Street, is one example.
The Downtown Improvement District is instrumental in that endeavor. Its director, Teresa Sparacino, said the district also supports the Herlocher idea.
Michael Freeman, a Planning Commission member, said the concept is a heartening change from "the mediocre (development) that's been happening for decades."
He applauded "large, towering buildings that provide urban views and views of the surrounding mountains."
"The suburbs can't compete with that," Freeman said.
Adam Smeltz can be reached at 231-4631.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Centre Daily Times, State College, Pa.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News. For reprints, email email@example.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.