Future Developments on Main

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Article by Erin Corcoran <ercorcoran@ursinus.edu>

Innovative dining, shops, and entertainment options all in Ursinus’s backyard? This could be a reality in the near future, due to Ursinus’s collaboration with Collegeville Borough to turn downtown Main Street into more of a walkable town.

The revitalization project stems from years of surveys of students and Collegeville residents finding that they wanted Collegeville to have more of a vibe of a walkable “college town.” In fact, the second most cited reason why admitted students say they do not attend Ursinus is the lack of a “vibrant commercial district” within walking distance of the school. The College and Borough have been working together to make this a reality. As Annette Parker, leader of the Downtown Revitalization and Consulting Advisor to the CFO, said, “We try to keep the overarching goal of creating a sustainable, walkable, fun and inviting environment for college and community in focus as we move forward.”

The U-Imagine Center collaborated with Collegeville Borough to generate concepts for Main Street’s future. In February 2020, the Center presented findings to Collegeville Borough from a five-student group, called U-CORPS, which conducted a semester-long project investigating what makes the 50 best college towns vibrant. In this presentation, they outlined specific qualities of these types of towns and what college towns around other liberal arts colleges look like. They identified preliminary opportunities for Collegeville, including vibrant nightlife, more public gathering spaces, increased business diversity, and community events, among other prospects.

Due to COVID and leadership changes, the momentum of this collaboration dwindled. However, this semester, Maureen Cumpstone’s Topics in Entrepreneurship students are studying downtown revitalization as part of their course, researching what makes a lively downtown. The group recently met with stakeholders to share ideas and interests. Cumpstone additionally emphasized that the U-Imagine Center is beginning to create an opportunity for students to get involved with the downtown revitalization project

Currently, the borough and college are together working towards a finalized master plan for downtown. President Hannigan said, “Once the plan is done then individual property owners and developers will have guidelines and potential businesses of interest to the community from which to work.” She also noted that students can begin to see new businesses in town as early as summer, but large-scale construction will take a few years. The Borough also received a grant of $72,000 from the PA Local Share Grant program. While the plans of this vision will not come to fruition until spring 2024, the funding covers developments in parking, retail, sidewalks, design, and more.

Parker spoke about the start of the project, stating, “The Borough of Collegeville, with the College as a subgrantee, has been awarded $3 million for downtown revitalization from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance for Capital Projects (RACP) program. This is expected to be used for new construction at the corner of 5th and Main to provide retail on the first floor and up to three floors of market rate apartments above. These are not expected to be student housing.” This is Phase 1 of the revitalization project and will be located where Marzella’s currently is, called the Collegeville Gateway Overlay District. 

Hannigan emphasized her excitement for the project stating, “I am excited to see a walkable, engaging downtown, a college town that has businesses that students and community members want and that bring vibrancy and economic benefit to the Borough.  I look forward to being able to point to things to do right here in our backyard when talking to prospective students and families as well as employees.”For more information on this project, contact Annette Parker at aparker@ursinus.edu.