Realizing the Vision
Cutting the ribbon on The Inn at Swarthmore on Wednesday evening, the College embarked on the next chapter of its history and its partnership with the borough.
“After much time, effort, and energy, this new inn, restaurant, and community and campus store link the College and borough in exciting new ways,” says President Valerie Smith. “I’m so excited to be here at this particular moment of our shared history.”
Together these spaces are a bridge, fostering collaboration within the College community and between the College and the borough of Swarthmore. It aligns with the College’s mission symbolically and materially, since revenue it produces will support all areas of the institution.
The full-service restaurant and bar, Broad Table Tavern, is slated to open May 9. It features a farm-to-table menu, guided by a chef with Italian and low-country leanings. In the spirit of the College’s sustainability efforts, the restaurant will source its fresh and seasonal fare from local farms and providers.
The Inn at Swarthmore, accented by white oak harvested from the site, has 40 guest rooms and suites that will provide comfortable accommodations for overnight guests. Three meeting rooms totaling 3,400 square feet are available for academic conferences, social events, workshops, book signings, and more.
Already open for business, the Swarthmore Campus and Community Store more than doubles the size of the old bookstore. The store includes a greatly expanded selection of books and retail items that will appeal to College community members, SEPTA commuters, and borough residents alike.
“This will only grow as we get a better sense of what the community wants from its store,” says Paula Dale, director of the store, which held its own ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday.
This fully realized Town Center West (TCW) project complements the recent acquisition of office space at 101 South Chester Road; a new south entrance to campus; a new residence hall that will be completed next summer; and the Matchbox, a fitness, wellness, and theater space on the south side of campus. It also boosts the profile of athletics, whose new softball field can be seen from the restaurant’s outdoor dining terrace and some of its guest rooms.
“All of that is ever so slightly pulling the center of gravity of campus a little to the south,” says Jan Semler, director of capital planning and project management and a key member of the Town Center West Design Oversight Committee.
The College now offers an environment matched by few, says Briana Pickett, sales director with Olympia Management Company, which operates The Inn.
“You’ve got that small town feel, but you can also just hop on a train to get to the city,” she says. “Along with the rich histories of Swarthmore and Philadelphia, there’s really something here for everyone.”
Although TCW marks a new chapter for Swarthmore, it’s the final chapter in a story that began over 20 years ago. It started with the College’s and the borough’s intersecting desires for a thriving town center.
The College had long wanted a gathering space for its entire community: faculty, students, staff, alumni, visiting scholars, friends of the College, and others. This space would also function as a nucleus to welcome and introduce the campus to prospective students and their families.
“We wanted to become a destination — not a stop along the way to somewhere else where they would stay overnight,” says Stu Hain, vice president for facilities and capital projects and co-chair of the TCW Design Oversight Committee.
Since TCW would be a front door to the College for many visitors, including faculty and staff recruits, “we needed to make sure it represented our values and reflected the qualities that we wanted to project to the larger community,” adds Semler.
The College also viewed The Inn as a meeting place, where visiting scholars would collaborate with faculty and students and small conferences would be held to explore the broad range of the liberal arts — a virtual hive of ideas and insights.
“These audiences also help us realize our goal to link to the broader region and the world,” says Smith, “and to open up new connections and relationships that may yield future collaborations and new ways of thinking.”
In 1999, the borough published the “Swarthmore Town Center Revitalization Strategy.” Among the report’s recommendations was the construction of an inn and retail space at the edge of the campus, expanding the town center to the west across Chester Road. Two years later, borough residents approved a liquor license for a potential restaurant at the site.
The realignment of Field House Lane and modifications to Chester Road (PA-320) required the College to collaborate closely with officials from PennDOT, SEPTA, and the borough.
“This was an enormously complex process,” says Hain, “and not something the College had ever taken on.”
The College initially hoped to hire a developer to manage the entire project from start to finish. But the early planning, including concepts similar to those of a Hampton Inn or Barnes & Noble, fizzled out.
“We realized that in order for the project to represent the College’s mission and values, we had to develop it ourselves,” says Semler. “Then there were the implications of going into retail, and what it would take to market this to the community and build the brand.”
Balancing Town and Gown
The College envisioned a contemporary look for the building at first, but it shifted to a more residential, arts and crafts style to reflect its history and better blend into the town, says Randy Exon, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot Professor of Studio Art, and a key contributor to the project’s aesthetics.
The College also purchased art from alumni and students to adorn guest rooms and common spaces, managed by Stacey Bomento, visual resources coordinator for The Department of Art, and Andrea Packard ’85, director of The List Gallery.
“That’s a really distinctive feature of The Inn,” says Exon. “It showcases the creative energy that we have on campus, and it’s a way to reflect something at the heart of what this place is about.”
The baby grand piano in the lobby is another evocative element, linking The Inn to Parrish Hall, where students can often be heard playing the instrument in the front parlor.
As the finishing touches were applied to the buildings last week, Hain and Semler each took a moment to reflect on the longest-lived project in modern College history. They marveled at all of the twists and turns — including the Great Recession of 2008 — the College had to overcome.
“It’s been gratifying to see it all come together, but also exhausting,” says Semler.
“I’ve been so close to it for so long that now I’m just excited to see the community’s response to it,” adds Hain. “I think we managed to create something reflective of the sensitivity and simplicity of the College that fits nicely into the town.”
Although Smith wasn’t here for the planning of Town Center West, she says that the project reflects her high priority of strengthening bonds with the College, local, and regional communities.
“Thank you to everyone who made it happen,” she says, “from the visionaries to the architects and designers to the finance people, to those ready to make these new spaces feel warm and welcoming for all.”