This $20 million renovation and retrofitting project forms the centerpiece of a multi-faceted academic, entrepreneurship and housing initiative. The mixed-use academic center fosters unique living and learning opportunities for students, while serving as a community resource for economic development.
Adaptive Re-use for Mixed-Use Development
A former office building was converted into a 260,000 SF mixed-used resource for Alvernia University and downtown Reading. CollegeTowne includes a business trading lab, classrooms, labs, esports facilities, student housing, a new engineering program, and a business incubator. Phase 1 of CollegeTowne opened in fall 2021.
The ground floor redesign features a community gathering place and lounge area, as well as space for the university’s business and communication programs. It also houses the O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship’s student-powered business incubator. Renovations on the lower level include a collaborative student gathering space, high-tech classrooms, spaces for the university’s esports team and cutting-edge labs for three new engineering programs. The fourth and fifth floors will be retrofitted for student housing, initially designed to house 66 students, with buildouts available to accommodate up to 200 students.
A Beacon for Experiential Learning and Community Engagement
The building façade respectfully honors the City of Reading Historic District Ordinance remembering significant architectural features of the original structure while creating a new entry beacon for CollegeTowne. The complementary features signify the collaborative opportunities between the University and the city while enhancing safety and defining a community courtyard feature.
As a mixed-use center, the commercial Penn Street presence is strengthened with community tenant partners that support the developments’ mission while the residential components front the more residential Court Street façade. The programming of the initial phase allows for future growth in residential units, academic programs, and community engagement.
Flexible Academic Center Design for Hands-on Learning
This building is designed to be an experiential teaching and learning space with flexible, modular classrooms equipped with the latest technology. Students collaborate with faculty members in learning spaces that include the trading floor, a state-of-the-art media studio, podcasting stations, publishing studios and esports spaces. A number of the spaces are open or feature glass walls to provide transparency for showcasing many of the activities taking place in the building core.
Innovative Funding Sources for Mixed-Use Academic Center
Described as a “landmark redevelopment project,” CollegeTowne is partially funded through a $4 million grant from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant. The project also received a $300,000 grant from the Wyomissing Foundation to support the student powered business incubator, the flagship program through the university’s O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship. Awarded over three years, this grant will facilitate new staff and student fellow positions, training and resource expansion for incubator clients.
Community Resource for Economic Development
CollegeTowne is a strategy and model for championing economic redevelopment. Through partnerships and collaborations with the City of Reading and local businesses and organizations, Alvernia serves as a strategic enabler for strengthening the local economy downtown. Starting with purchasing a mostly vacant building and then adding academic programming, a business incubator and eventually student housing, the project is expected to foster engagement and energy in downtown Reading.