Goodbye, James Building

Penn State administrators plan to replace the James Building on South Burrowes Street in State College late next year. It’s a building that dates to 1920, but it’s a plain building that I think started out as a showroom for cars and I think I’ll be happy to see it replaced by something that will presumably be both more beautiful and make better use of space. Here’s the James Building from Google Street View:

123 South Burrowes- James Building.png

I’ve only ever set foot in there a handful of times. Once as an undergrad to meet with the editors of the Daily Collegian to talk about the threat that a Penn State student affairs administrator posed to free speech of campus media outlets, and another time or two for class or other reasons.

It’s historically interesting to me as the 1995-2003 home of The LION 90.7fm before the campus radio station moved on campus into the HUB-Robeson Center, the student union. I know a number of alumni from that era, and for their sake I’ll be a bit sorry to see this physical site of a brief era in Penn State student broadcasting history depart the scene. The campus radio station was housed one floor above the Daily Collegian, the student newspaper, and a joke from that era was something like, “Visit WKPS, Penn State’s campus station. We’re above the Daily Collegian, literally.”

It’s a building that sits at a remove from the street, and contributes to a deadness along with two other Penn State-owned buildings, two parking lots, and other unremarkable structures on this block of South Burrowes Street. I hope whatever Penn State selects to replace it will revitalize the experience of the street in this part of town, because it could really stand for improvement. Geoff Rushton with details:

The James Building in downtown State College has been home to the Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper, for the past 30 years. But it won’t be for much longer.

Penn State plans to demolish the nearly 100-year old building at 121-123 S. Burrowes St. and replace it with a new, $52.8 million building that will serve as a hub for the Invent Penn State entrepreneurial and innovation initiative.

According to a request for letters of interest from design and engineering firms, the university anticipates construction on a new building to begin in November 2019 with completion in December 2020. Development plans would require approval from State College Borough Council.

In addition to the Collegian, the James Building also houses Bellisario College of Communications administrative offices and the Media Effects Research Lab. Each of the current tenants will be relocated to a new location, Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers said in an email, though where has yet to be decided.

“The Office of Physical Plant indicates that multiple locations have been identified for these groups to potentially move into, so the space allocations are still somewhat in flux and subject to change,” Powers said.

The new building is expected to be 99,000 to 119,000 gross square feet, and “will support the Invent Penn State initiative by developing a multi-use Innovation, Making and Learning facility that will become the cornerstone of our entrepreneurial ecosystem,” according to the letter to architectural firms.

It would “maximize the allowable buildout” of the existing site and would include an estimated 29,000 gross square feet for maker and innovation space; 6,000 gross square feet for retail; and upper levels of at least 65,000 square feet for flexible office, learning activity and other spaces. …

On-site parking will be included with the new building, as required by zoning.

According to the OPP letter, goals of the project include developing “a new building in State College that will help create a ‘hub’ of activity and enhance the existing aesthetic and character of the urban site and tie into downtown at the adjacent [University Park campus]” and “to create a well-designed, unique, destination building that functions as a center for innovation and knowledge sharing,” that will serve community businesses, start-ups and students.

The building also is expected to be highly efficient with LEED certification.

The existing 30,000 square-foot, two-story brick building was constructed in 1920 and the university says it and its infrastructure “are at the end of their useful life.”

I’m hopeful. Growing from the existing ~30,000 sq ft to ~100,000 sq ft or more will be a good improvement, I just hope that grace and beauty come with size. And I also hope/expect sanity to prevail and for State College Borough to waive the zoning requirement for on-site parking. There are two enormous municipal parking decks within two blocks.