It takes constant monitoring to keep up with the constant ebb and flow of retail and professional organizations in downtown State College, and that is part of the mission of the Downtown Improvement District.
DID executive director George Arnold is at the forefront of a multifaceted initiative to enhance the economic environment in the downtown while jealously guarding the quality of life for the many businesses and professional services located in the district.
The boundaries of the DID extend from Atherton Street to Sowers Street and College Avenue to Highland Alley. Within that area there are 75 restaurants and eateries, 75 retail stores and 250 professional service entities.
The DID is funded by an assessment paid by those doing business within the district borders.
When a business closes, the empty storefront is a constant reminder that economic development efforts will need to be launched to fill the space as quickly as possible. The DID works with the property owners to assure the best fit.
Many casual observers may wonder why an area with a constant flow of student traffic and visitors would have even one empty storefront.
However, a casual observer would probably not understand the revolution that is occurring in retail sales, including fierce competition from big box stores and a wide variety online retailers.
“I am encouraged by the spirit of cooperation among the different groups responsible for Downtown State College,” said Arnold. “We have a very good relationship with Penn State, the Chamber of Business and Industry and the Borough of State College. We are constantly updating our membership on things that impact them.”
In addition to economic development projects such as the Fraser Centre, the DID manages a number of services that go unseen by most residents, shoppers and guests.
One key element is the Clean and Safe program.
“Our clean team works seven days a week,” said Arnold. “They start at 5 a.m. and make sure that the streets are clean.”
The Downtown Safety Enhancement program is a partnership between the DID and Penn State.
“Penn State sends auxiliary offers downtown in high traffic times. They offer additional eyes and ears on the ground to assist the State College police,” Arnold said. “If they see something that looks suspicious they report it to the police.”
Marketing the downtown area includes a new website, as well as a full plate of events that attract shoppers to the downtown district. The events include First Fridays, Summer’s Best Music Fest, The Polar Express, the August Sidewalk Sale and more.
“We are always looking for ways to keep Downtown State College on the top of people’s minds,” said Arnold.
One perception that the DID is always working to change is the feeling that there is no parking in the downtown. “We have 2,080 municipal spaces. And many businesses will validate parking for shoppers,” Arnold said.
Economic development is an important component of the DID’s mission, too. “We connect property owners to those looking for space,” said Arnold. “We work to have an impact on the business mix.” The DID helped secure state grants for the Fraser Centre, for example.
The greatest challenge for the DID, according to Arnold, is promoting small businesses and helping them succeed.