Four years after first being proposed to the Board of Managers, the Town Center West Project (also known as the Swarthmore Inn) near PPR may soon break ground — but many students still have reservations about the benefits, if any, that the new inn will bring to the College. The cost of the project is currently up in the air, but a 2008 estimate put the price tag between $30 million and $50 million. Though financed by outside gifts and not student tuitions, is the inn really the best project towards which to apply College funds?
The inn does not seem like a facility that will cater to the student population. In a town where one can easily buy a meal for under $10, the inn will put in an upscale restaurant with a bar — not someplace that the majority of college students would choose to venture. Many of Swarthmore’s students are under the legal drinking age anyway.
Despite arguments that the inn will revitalize the Borough of Swarthmore, there are many potential costs which cannot go ignored. It is unlikely that the inn will attract people not directly connected with the College; very few new customers will come into the area because of the inn. Why would tourists and businesspeople stay in Swarthmore when all of Philadelphia is at their disposal? Any customers that do come will likely use inn and College facilities almost exclusively; Ville shops and restaurants will probably see very little uptick in activity. Not to mention that the inn may take away the business of our two perfectly fine bed-and-breakfasts, both of which are close enough to campus to be convenient for College visitors.
The inn’s recently approved liquor license is also a point of contention, particularly in the Ville. In the interest of keeping the peace, many residents express qualms about creating a source of alcohol accessible to students so close to their homes and businesses. The liquor license, being the only one granted in the Borough of Swarthmore, gives the inn an unfair monopoly on the sale of alcohol. It is shameful for the College to campaign for a loophole for itself in the Borough’s “dry” policy. Liquor licenses should either be made available to all Ville businesses or none at all.
Convenience is also an issue, particularly for students. The inn has already been in the works for four years, with no ground even broken yet. How long will it be before the full inn is completed? Until the ribbon is cut, students in nearby dorms such as PPR will have to deal with constant noise and movement of construction materials. The project will not be confined to the softball field; it will require the demolition of the road leading to the athletic facilities and the construction of a new one. For students and residents of the Ville, inconvenience caused by the construction will be a persistent problem.
While the above concerns should be addressed, we do recognize the need for a place to stay for alumni and other campus visitors. Furthermore, the project cannot turn back now, after four years in the making. But the Town Center West Project as it stands now is more extravagant than the College needs. Currently it is a three-building complex with a sunken amphitheater, a fine arts cinema and an underground parking garage. In a town of 6,000 people, these effects seem mainly for show. A hotel of a size that requires the demolition and construction of roads is too much. A smaller building with fewer rooms and a moderately priced restaurant without a liquor license would be sufficient. It will take less time to construct and use less College money. The inn project need not halt — just downsize.
Not to mention that the inn is very close to the siren which signals to Swarthmore’s volunteer fire department. Who wants to stay at a hotel where you can be woken up in the middle of the night by those three familiar heaven-splitting blasts?