Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Saturday, community members from the Borough of Swarthmore gathered at the Swarthmore Friends Meetinghouse to hold a dialogue regarding the proposed Swarthmore Town Center West.
Over 50 people attended the town meeting, including students and faculty from the College. Vice President for Facilities and Services Stu Hain and Town Center Coordinator Marty Spiegel were also present to address concerns about the Inn. (Hain recently wrote a letter outlining the history of the project.)
Issues raised by those present at the meeting included concerns over traffic routing, the serving of alcohol on a college campus, and the destruction of a field, which one resident of the borough called “a beautiful green space.”
Also widely discussed was whether or not the Swarthmore Town Center West presented a viable economic model.
Chris Darrell, a resident of the borough and the owner of a Bed and Breakfast, claimed that several motel owners in the area, with whom he had been in contact, are currently operating at about 30% or 40% capacity. According to Darrell, this includes the Best Western recently built near the Widener University campus; a model that Darrell expects will be similar to the Swarthmore Town Center West.
Another borough resident, Susan Wright, added that bookstores are “a dying breed.” She said, “It’s like putting a buggy whip factory in your industrial park.”
Other residents countered these arguments, claiming that the proposed project could bring more people into Swarthmore and add to the town’s tax base.
Scott Richardson, the owner of Occasionally Yours in the ville, believes that the Swarthmore Town Center West would boost sales at surrounding businesses. “The more restaurants we have, the more business we’re going to have,” Richardson said. “Competition is a good thing.”
These statements were echoed on Monday at the Borough Council meeting, where approximately 13 citizens used the open forum as an opportunity to express their opinions regarding the project.
About six of the people who spoke about the Inn supported the project fully, with others saying that they would like to see more options or alternative models.
Adam Bortner ’12, who attended both the town meeting and the Borough Council meeting, expressed his hope that further studies will be done before the borough and college proceed with the Swarthmore Town Center West. “I would like to see evidence that this hotel project is necessary, economically, environmentally, and socially viable, and beneficial to our college and the community of Swarthmore,” Bortner said. “I have heard an incredible amount of speculation from all sides of this issue, but the bottom line is that we have no reliable, current information on which to make a decision about this project.”
Bortner, along with others at the Borough Council meeting, also said that they were disappointed that no members of council attended Saturday’s town meeting.
In a brief response at the end of the open forum, council member David Grove said that he thought the town meeting was “untimely.” “Several years ago, the borough’s zoning ordinance was amended [to allow for the project],” Grove said. “There’s nothing for us as a council to do now.”