What is "Town Center West?"
Town Center West (TCW) is a development concept that will include building a 40-room inn with meeting space, a restaurant, and a relocated and expanded Swarthmore College Bookstore. All components of the development will be open and available to the public.
TCW is planned as a model of economic, environmental, and social sustainability. The inn in particular will serve as one form of an intellectual living room, providing an informal gathering place in addition to the more formal spaces available on campus. TCW will also be carefully planned to facilitate both pedestrian and vehicle flow between and around the College and the Borough.
Where is the Town Center West site?
The Town Center West site is located on the south edge of the College campus, adjacent to the athletic facilities and in close proximity to the train station and the center of the Borough's retail district.
What is the history of the site?
The deed history of the TCW site shows that the College acquired the land in the 19th century and used most of it for agricultural purposes. The College barn (1879) and tenant farmhouse on Field House Lane attest to this use.
In 1928, the Borough zoned the land as part of the Business District, allowing numerous uses including: dwellings, clubs, educational, religious or philanthropic use, athletic recreational use, store, office, bank, restaurant, private garage, and "office of painter or paperhanger." The College installed a private road in 1937 to serve the newly-constructed Field House. Over time, the fields were converted from farming to athletic use.
The current zoning map, dated 1976, shows the TCW parcel as part of the Institutional District, which allows "college academic and dormitory expansion; elementary and secondary schools; and a church, synagogue, rectory, parish house, or similar religious institution." Conditional uses include "a wireless communications facility with antenna(s); and Bed and Breakfast establishments."
The Institutional-Commercial District, established in 2005 in support of the concept of the TCW development, allows conditional uses in addition to those allowed by the underlying institutional zoning, including an inn, restaurant, meeting rooms, and retail space.
The TCW site and the adjoining land to the south are underlaid with over a mile of underground utilities, including electric, telephone/data, water, gas and storm sewer serving the College and a storm sewer serving PA 320. This is exclusive of the overhead utilities strung on poles along Field House Lane.
Where did the idea to create a Town Center West come from?
The original idea for Town Center West comes from a planning document titled "Swarthmore Town Center Revitalization Strategy," prepared for the Borough by Urban Partners with Kise Straw & Kolodner in September 1999. This 34-point plan was the result of study and analysis of current and projected economic conditions in the Borough and included input from over 900 individuals including members of the College community and Borough residents. The Revitalization Strategy [pdf] has served as a blueprint for the Borough's revitalization efforts, and many of the suggestions have been implemented.
The report targeted a location for the development of Town Center West and named six recommended elements of the development: 1) a new south College entrance; 2) an inn; 3) relocating the College Bookstore; 4) a town green, 5) improvements to the existing Magill Walk underpass; and 6) structured parking. The ongoing benefits of the Revitalization Strategy were confirmed by its adoption in the Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plan for Nether Providence, Rose Valley, Rutledge, and Swarthmore, published in 2006. Since publication of the original report, the College has explored the feasibility of developing Town Center West.
How will Town Center West benefit the Borough?
The Town Center West project will contribute new tax revenues to the Borough, it will generate jobs, and it will foster increased foot traffic to the Borough's existing commercial district.
How does Town Center West support the mission of Swarthmore College?
TCW will serve as a hub of intellectual energy and a gathering place for faculty, students, and staff; for visiting scholars and speakers; for alumni, parents, prospective students and families, and friends of the College; and visiting friends and family members of local residents. The development will also provide a closer, stronger connection between Borough residents and College community members.
In addition, many alumni, faculty members, staff, and students voice a long-held desire that the College play a more active, and more visible, role regionally, nationally, and internationally in order to contribute in a more meaningful way to the conversations about the future of the liberal arts. An inn could provide space for conferences and workshops on topics relevant to the future of liberal arts and higher education.
Isn't Ashton House adequate to serve these purposes?
The College's existing bed and breakfast, Ashton House, cannot fulfill the current need. In addition, Ashton House is not handicapped accessible and would be extremely difficult to modify to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act without seriously compromising the architecture and use of the building. Many of the College's peer institutions provide on-site lodging and our prospective students and scholarly visitors would benefit from such accommodations when they visit Swarthmore. While some visitors currently use the bed and breakfast establishments in Swarthmore, many more stay at hotels in Conshohocken or at the Philadelphia Airport. The inn at TCW will provide an additional overnight stay option. Ashton House is a valuable building asset for the College and could be repurposed in several ways. Consideration of those options will be part of the strategic planning process.
Who is driving the project?
The College is leading the planning effort. The Borough has supported the project by enacting zoning legislation which would allow the development to be implemented. The Borough has not been asked to fund the construction on the site and will not own any element of the development.
Is the College selling the land?
No, the College is not selling the land.
Is the College allowed to develop the land?
Yes. While the site had been zoned to allow the College to construct an academic building or dormitory, in 2005, the zoning was adjusted to allow some "conditional" uses in addition to those previously permitted. The approved conditional uses include zoning for an inn, a restaurant, meeting rooms, and retail space.
What will the College build on the site?
The College explored several development models and concluded that the self-development model would give the College the necessary control over the project details and the ongoing operation of the development, as well as reduce financial and operational risks. The concept calls for an inn with 40 guest rooms, meeting rooms, a restaurant, and the relocation of the College-run bookstore.
What is the College's commitment to environmental preservation and green space in relation to this project?
The site is approximately four acres of the College's 425 acres, over half of which is preserved as the Crum Woods. TCW will honor the principles of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), of which President Rebecca Chopp is a signatory. This includes designing the project to the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Silver certification which addresses issues of energy savings, water efficiency, air quality, stewardship of resources and sensitivity to impacts on the environment. There are no unique specimen plantings on the site that are not represented elsewhere in the Arboretum. The ultimate landscaping of the Town Center West site will exhibit the same quality as elsewhere on campus.
Will the planned restaurant have a liquor license?
A voter referendum in 2001 approved liquor and wine to be served in a restaurant in a hotel on College property. This carefully defined liquor license will be the only one in the Borough, which is otherwise a "dry" town. The liquor license cannot be sold by the College or used anywhere else in the Borough. Local residents determined that making an exception to the Borough's "dry" status for this hotel and restaurant was sensible given their desire for the Town Center West project to succeed and thus contribute to the revitalization efforts underway in the Borough's commercial district. A liquor license will make the inn and restaurant more appealing to visitors and will contribute to the financial viability of the project. When the Borough voted on this measure in 2001 it did so with the goal to control the quality and scale of the operation. In effect it entrusted to the College the mandate to ensure that the establishment would adhere to strict liquor law enforcement and would enhance, rather than diminish the quality of life for Borough residents.
What is the RACP funding?
In Spring 2010, the Borough received notice of eligibility for a grant of $2 million in support of Town Center West from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). According to the Commonwealth website, "A project is eligible for a RACP grant if it has a cultural, civic, historical, regional, or multi-jurisdictional impact and generates substantial increases in employment, tax revenues, or other measures of economic activity." The state grant was awarded in April 2010 by then-Governor Edward Rendell. In Summer 2011, the Commonwealth committed to funding the grant. The project has the bipartisan support of local state representatives. RACP is a reimbursement program.
Who is guiding the project at the College?
In Spring 2011, the College formed a Design Oversight Committee, comprised of student, faculty, staff, alumni, and Board representatives, to guide the design process. Since Summer 2011, the committee has worked with Cope Linder Architects to develop a design that is responsive to the College's vision and goals for the project.
Who will build the development?
The College will manage the design and construction of all of the components of the project.
What is the project's anticipated timeline?
The relocation of underground utilities began in Summer 2011. The College will begin the Borough approval process in June 2013, with the anticipated completion of the project in Spring 2016.
What will happen to the College Bookstore?
As part of its due-diligence efforts for Town Center West, the College in 2008 commissioned a study of possible operating models for the bookstore. As a result of the study, it was decided that the College will continue to operate the bookstore. It will not become part of a chain.
This plan calls for the College Bookstore to develop into a campus store which in addition to selling books to students will also sell books to the general public as well as college merchandise. The campus store is envisioned as the retail anchor in Town Center West. It will continue to draw members of the College community but, with a more easily accessible and prominent location, will become a more attractive destination for Borough residents and visitors as well. The campus store will create an informal gathering place that Borough residents and the College community can all enjoy.
Will inn employees have an opportunity to join a union?
The College has a long, positive history of ensuring competitive wage and benefit packages, a safe and healthy working environment freed from threats or intimidation, and positive relationships between staff and managers. Its commitment to these conditions holds true for any staff person working on the campus and will include those who will work at the inn and restaurant. The College also supports workers' rights to make choices about whether to form a labor union and to do so in an environment that is respectful and free of harassment or intimidation from any party. We do not believe that the administration, students, faculty, or a third party should determine the staff's destiny, but rather that the staff itself should determine that destiny in a positive atmosphere free of coercion or undue pressure from any party.
For more on the College's committment to providing a safe, healthy, and productive working environment, please see President Rebecca Chopp's Statement of Principles on this subject, as well as the College's Statement on Card Check Neutrality.
What will happen to the softball field, the parking lots, and the barn?
The College is in the process of relocating the softball field closer to Palmer Residence Hall. It will remain a natural turf field with dugouts, backstop, and fencing similar to what exists today. The student parking spaces displaced by TCW will be relocated to a new lot to be constructed west of the heat plant and south of the train tracks with access from Field House Lane. The staff parking spaces adjacent to the train station will be absorbed by existing nearby lots or by the new lot. The barn will be preserved and will still be visible from Chester Road.
What construction has been accomplished so far?
In summer 2011, relocation of the softball field and underground utilities began. The new softball field is being used for practice while the turf is getting established. The field will be finished as part of the construction of TCW.
Why was the elm tree on Field House Lane cut down? Can this wood be repurposed?
Two independent experts determined that the tree was infected with Dutch elm disease. The disease is highly contagious to other American elms. As soon as it was positively confirmed that the tree was diseased, the College had the tree taken down to forestall the spread of the disease to other elms on campus. The wood from the tree harbors the fungus which can continue to spread to healthy elms; therefore, the lumber from the tree cannot be repurposed.
How might the TCW project affect traffic patterns, particularly at the Rutgers Ave./Chester Rd. intersection?
One goal of the Town Center West development is to improve traffic flow and safety at this important intersection. In Fall 2010, the College commissioned McMahon Associates, Inc., transportation engineers and planners to conduct a preliminary traffic evaluation of the potential impact of the TCW development. The parameters of the study were set by the Borough's engineer to ensure a comprehensive survey of the impact of the proposed changes on adjacent neighborhoods and traffic patterns. The College has begun a dialogue with PennDOT and will engage in open discussion with the Borough to address both the existing issues at the Rutgers Ave./Chester Road intersection and the impact of traffic associated with the TCW development.
Why is a traffic circle being proposed at Rutgers Avenue instead of a traffic light?
A roundabout adds a degree of safety by requiring traffic to slow as it enters and exits the roundabout and by eliminating left turns.
In addition, a detailed analysis of alternative designs for the intersection, both as a traffic signal and as a roundabout, revealed significantly less delay and shorter queue lengths approaching the intersection when the the intersection is configured as a roundabout.
Why is the traffic circle considered safer for vehicles and pedestrians than a traffic light?
Modern roundabouts have been demonstrated to be safer and more efficient than traditional stop-controlled and signalized intersections. As drivers approach a roundabout, landscaped islands are utilized to deflect vehicles and slow traffic entering the intersection. Drivers entering the roundabout are required to yield to vehicles already in the roundabout. Within the roundabout, a central island is designed with a small radius which inherently slows traffic to 15-20 mph and directs all traffic counter-clockwise, eliminating conflicting left turns.
Roundabouts have undergone several improvements since they were originally designed many years ago. For example, they are now designed with an inner paved ring outside a landscaped circle, which allows oversize trucks and emergency vehicles to complete their turn while minimizing the overall diameter of the circle. Landscaped islands help direct traffic into and out of the circle. These characteristics differ from the older traffic circles with which many drivers in New Jersey are familiar, which utilize larger radii and wider drive lanes, a design which encouraged maintaining higher travel speeds through the intersection. In these older circles, vehicles inside the circle must yield to entering traffic, which causes confusion and congestion. Modern roundabouts require that vehicles entering the circle yield to those already in the circle, maintaining a smoother flow of traffic.
Modern roundabouts have also been found to be safer for pedestrians compared to traditional intersections. Crosswalks are set back from the yield location to allow drivers to react to pedestrians before merging into the roundabout. The landscaped islands also provide refuge for pedestrians as they cross one direction of traffic at a time. A study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety found a 70 percent reduction in injury crashes, a 90 percent reduction in fatal crashes, and a 40 percent reduction in all crashes comparing roundabouts to traditional signalized intersections. Fuel consumption is also reduced by 30 percent, with less noise and emissions compared to traditional intersections.
Has PennDOT approved the traffic circle?
The proposed roundabout layout has been reviewed by PennDOT and found to be acceptable on a preliminary basis. PennDOT has conducted a preliminary review of the engineering drawings for the roundabout and their comments have been addressed. Detailed plans will go through a series of two or three rounds of review comments, with comments being issued by PennDOT and the design team responding to PennDOT's comments in subsequent plan submissions. The plans will be submitted and reviewed by the Borough's engineer as part of the land development process of the Town Center West project, which will include review by the Borough engineer.
Who will approve the project?
Following the Board's approval in May 2013, the College will begin the approval process with the Borough in June. The project requires both land development and conditional use approval by the Borough. The stated goal of the land development approval process will ensure that the project will contribute to "the orderly, efficient, integrated, and harmonious development of the Borough." The conditional use approval process will ensure that the development meets the goals of the Borough zoning code "to promote and facilitate the coordinated and practical community development of the Borough in a manner consistent with law and the public interest." Both approval processes culminate in a vote taken by Swarthmore Borough Council to approve or disapprove the project.
The reconfiguration of the Rutgers Avenue intersection requires approval from PennDOT. Relocation of the Route 109 bus stop locations requires approval from SEPTA.
What is known about the economic viability of this project?
The College has completed a study of campus bookstore operating models, which led to the conclusion that the College will remain the operator of the Bookstore in its new location. The College commissioned two independent studies of hotel room demand to guide decisions about the appropriate size and amenities for the inn. One consultant recommended a 40-to-45–room inn; the other recommended a 40–room inn. Both recommended an independently operated inn, as distinct from a property that would be part of a chain.
The College has worked with real estate and hospitality industry consultants to analyze and forecast the future financial performance of the project. In addition, the College has both real estate and hospitality experts on its Board who have offered to contribute their experience and insight in ways that will be very helpful. Although the College does not have experience in commercial development, it has deep reserves on which to draw for guidance and advice.
What were the major findings of the market studies the College commissioned to assess hotel demand in this area?
The College commissioned two independent, simultaneous studies of hotel demand. Pinnacle Advisory Group of Boston, Mass., and RevPAR International of Vienna, Va., were asked to assess demand for the hotel, restaurant, and conference space. Each firm was given access to a broad cross section of College personnel for online and/or telephone interviews, and each firm researched the local and regional market using industry-standard research practices. The conclusions reached by the two firms were very similar, leading the College to a high degree of confidence in the findings.
Both consultants recommended an independently operated inn rather than one affiliated with a regional or national chain. Both recommended a 3-star/3-diamond inn with complimentary shuttle service around campus, a small business center, a small gift shop, free wireless internet service, and free parking. Both firms recommended about 100 seats in a combined lounge/restaurant with seating for outdoor dining in good weather and an outdoor function space. Both firms recommended space for a private dining room in the restaurant.
The College is planning for a 40-room inn including handicapped accessible guest rooms and 3,750 SF of conference/banquet space. Plans for the restaurant include 65-75 seats for dining and 25-35 seats in the lounge, with the potential for outdoor seasonal dining for 30 guests. Plans for the campus bookstore call for about one third more space than at present, with flexible display space and adjacent outdoor space for temporary displays similar to what the bookstore currently mounts for events such as Garnet Homecoming and Family Weekend, Commencement, and Alumni Weekend.
Are apartments or condominiums part of this development?
These were not a part of the proposal presented to the Board of Managers at its February 2010 meeting. Additionally, if apartments were ever to be considered, a zoning variance would be required from the Borough.
How can I have input into the project?
The Ad Hoc Advisory Committee provides a vehicle for the exchange of ideas among all members of the community. Questions and comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your participation is also welcomed and encouraged at the open meetings that will take place on campus.