In late April, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office awarded the Swarthmore Borough the opportunity to apply for a $2 million grant. The money, which would be distributed as part of the Commonwealth’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, would help to revive the borough and the college’s plan to build an inn on the Swarthmore campus.
The Swarthmore Town Center West, which, according to a town ordinance, could contain up to 80 rooms, a restaurant/bar, the bookstore for Swarthmore College, and additional retail space, would be situated on a tract off of Fieldhouse Lane, approximately where the softball field is currently located.
According to Stu Hain, Vice President for Facilities and Services, the inn probably will not be as large as is currently allowed by the town. The final product, however, will depend on the developer, which has not yet been chosen.
Hain also said that a new bookstore would mean only that there would be a new location for current bookstore employees and management. It is still unclear what would happen with the space the bookstore currently holds in the basement of Clothier Hall.
The plan to build the inn, which originated in 1996 as part of a town revitalization plan, gained momentum in early 2008 when college faculty and town officials met with potential consultants to discuss how the inn would function. The project, however, slowed soon after.
According to Hain, the economy played a major role in delaying the project. Now, with renewed interest and support by State Representative Bryan Lentz and State Senator Ted Erickson, the plan seems as though it might continue forward.
The state money, if awarded, would be used to prepare the construction site, including the relocation of the softball field and Fieldhouse Lane. Still, the money from the state has not yet been allocated; Swarthmore has only received permission to submit a grant application, which still must be approved by the Governor’s Budget Office.
According to Hain, the “go-ahead” given by the state to apply for the grant is a step in the right direction. “There’s a high probability [of receiving the grant], but it’s not a sure thing,” Hain said.
In a statement from the Governor’s Office, the project received praise for potentially providing “additional tax revenues for the borough [and] transportation benefits for the community.” According to the statement, the project “is expected to provide about 113 new jobs in the area, including indirect employment in the community.”
If the grant is approved, the college will also be expected to contribute $2 million to the project; however, the value of the land on which the inn would be built and other factors would be considered as part of the college’s contribution and would deflect the actual monetary cost to the college.
A developer would provide the rest of the money for the project, which Hain estimated to be between $6 million and $16 million. Still, Hain said, the final cost will “depend on what’s produced.”
The developer would lease the inn site from the college for an extended period of time. At the end of the lease, the college would receive both the land and the inn.
According to Hain, construction on the inn could start within two years, with the project being completed one year to fifteen months after that.
“It’s a little optimistic, but possible,” Hain said. “That’s the best we could do.”
In a press release, President Chopp expressed her support for the project, saying, “Swarthmore College has long dreamed of the day when its parents, alumni, and guests could visit and stay right on our campus.”
The Swarthmore Borough is also ready to begin planning the project. “I’m eager to see the college come up with a more detailed plan so that we can really sink our teeth into it,” Rick Lowe, the Mayor of Swarthmore Borough, said.
Lowe also said, however, that the people living in Swarthmore – including students – would be given an opportunity to voice concerns and ask questions before any final decisions regarding the project are made.
A town meeting has been organized to discuss the inn project; it will be held on Saturday, September 11th at 7:00 PM at the Friends Meeting House.
A College committee is also being formed to gather opinion from members of the Swarthmore community on the project. Appointments Chair Sonja Spoo ’13 wrote in an email that the committee, which will begin work “immediately,” is “looking for dedicated students who will be able to think critically about the issues and be open to listening to differing opinions and perspectives.”
Spoo was not available for further comment, but the Gazette will have more details on the committee, the town meeting, and the Inn Project in general as the project progresses.