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Town Center West awaits approval to move forward

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The construction of a new softball field closer to Palmer Residence Hall may have people wondering what will replace the old athletic field. With a projected finish date of spring of 2016, Town Center West is a development concept — worked on by a Design Oversight Committee of administrators, professors, faculty, alum Bob Hoe ’68 and senior Jonathan Molloy ’14 — that will stand on the former field. The center will include a 40-room inn with meeting space, a sit-down restaurant with a liquor license, and a relocated and expanded Swarthmore College bookstore.

“We’re in the midst of the borough approval process, [which] consists of working with the borough to secure conditional use approval and land development approval,” Director of Planning and Construction Jan Semler said. “It’s a formal process with several steps, and the timing of the steps is dependent on the complexity of the project, the availability of the college team and the borough committees and the nature of the project. It will take several months to secure [approval].”

While located on the college’s property, Town Center West will have amenities for both the campus and the town. Not only will the development of a sit-down restaurant and an inn provide visitors a place to eat and reside, but the new bookstore will also be part of the town. With plans to serve as more of a college merchandise store than in the past, the bookstore will be the first bookstore in the town in at least 10 years. People involved with Town Center West believe that this development concept will enhance the foot traffic in Swarthmore and will consequently benefit other businesses in the town.

“The town has long wanted to have a restaurant of fine quality both for residents and their families,” Vice President for College and Community Relations and Executive Assistant to the President Maurice Eldridge ’61 said. “Part of the whole impetus was the notion of revitalizing the town, to avoid the decline that happens to some inner suburbs. [People] were looking for something to enrich the town.”

According to the Swarthmore website, the space will not only provide a location for visitors and residents to lounge; rather, it will also contribute to the college campus. “TCW will serve as a hub of intellectual energy and a gathering place for faculty, students, and staff; for visiting scholars and speakers; for alumni, parents, prospective students and families, and friends of the College; and visiting friends and family members of local residents,” the website says. “The development will also provide a closer, stronger connection between Borough residents and College community members.”

Town Center West’s liquor license will be the only in the town of Swarthmore. While the borough is dry, a 2001 voter referendum allowed for liquor and wine to be available in a hotel restaurant on the college’s campus. The license permits alcoholic purchases only for restaurant diners, room service orders and catered events. Despite some initial objections to the availability of alcohol in Swarthmore, Eldridge thinks that most people now accept the concept.

“I’d say that the majority of people I’ve talked to are enthusiastic and eager about this happening, as are most of the merchants in town,” he said. “There have always been a few worried voices about whether this will block the view of the barn. There are people who don’t welcome change or not knowing what the outcome would feel like. I don’t know that it rises to tension or big division, though.”

The barn is a town landmark that stands between the baseball and softball fields. Already built when the college bought the property in 1878, the barn housed horses and other farm animals as recently as the 1940s. The college now uses it for storage and maintenance.

After the borough approval, the committee needs approval from Delaware County, SEPTA, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, as the project affects Chester Road and may cause new locations for both commuter parking and SEPTA bus stops.

“It’s going to take some time, but we’re optimistic,” Selmer said.

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