Inn-sanity: The Phoenix is Unsure That the Benefits of the New Hotel Will Outweigh the Costs

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?


  1. You make some good points along with some factually inaccurate statements. Overall an excellent opinion piece. I would add that it is not just College Money being wasted on this project. $2 million of taxpayer money, through the RCAP program, has been approved by Governor Corbett who campaigned against this program. Think how much this money is needed in Chester or to repair the Trestle or other parts of our crumbling infrastructure. Also what about the increased costs to the Borough such as Police and Fire? Lastly, this project has been “discussed” for at least 11 years not 4.
    Thanks again for you editorial.

  2. The editorial, despite some factual errors, articulates well the concern about the Inn Project that some of us connected with the
    college felt all along but found no appropriate platform to state it. Aside from the multiple problems expressed here, I heard so far no convincing argument that the facilities will be profitably used throughout the academic year (and possibly during the summer). There is little doubt that visitors to the college en masse or individually will generally prefer to dine and stay in culturally vibrant
    historic Philadelphia, and there are only so many symposia (if any) that the overworked faculty have time to organize. I find it
    most curious that the faculty at large hardly said anything about the ill-conceived project, whether out of ignorance, apathy, laziness, or fear of speaking up. Where has the vocal faculty of bygone days gone? Or are they knowingly and wholeheartedly in support of it?

  3. This Phoenix opinion-piece was written over a year ago, but internet-time is relative, and the inn is still a hot issue, so I’ll respond. The inn has been in the works since the mid 1990s. I wrote a letter to the Swarthmorean advocating for an inn several years before the 1999 “revitalization” study. This was back before the ville had a coffee shop, before the Coop was renovated, and before the restaurant renaissance in nearby Media. I had in mind a quiet inn with a coffee shop, a bookstore, and a small casual restaurant (BYOB would be my preference). Analogues can be found in a number of small college towns. Unfortunately, the inn got upsized by the College into an 80-room conference center replete with two-storey faux tudor parking garage, to be run by the Holiday Inn corporation or one of its subsidiaries. The College envisioned a large commercial enterprise and has argued that it must serve liquor to be profitable. There was sufficient backlash to that behemoth that it retreated into the shadows and re-emerged some years later half its size. Progress. I personally would have liked to see a new dorm built first, and then Palmer, Pittenger, and Roberts be repurposed as the inn. The architectural challenges were exciting to contemplate. The PP&R location would have placed the inn’s ingress/egress on the flat stretch of Chester Road and given it access to Harvard Ave near the church too. But the College is building the inn from the ground up and is proposing a roundabout near the crest of the underpass as the ingress/egress. There will also be a pedestrian walkway across the roundabout. But the steep grade creates line-of-sight problems. Motorists ascending from the underpass cannot see traffic entering from Rutgers Avenue, and vice-versa. Motorists ascending from the underpass cannot see pedestrians until the car reaches the crest of the hill. Many residents feel the roundabout-with-pedestrian-crossing will complicate an already dangerous intersection, not make things better. Yet the public has had no opportunity to raise their concerns in a formal hearing dedicated to the highway plan, where improvements or alternatives might have emerged. The College should itself be requesting the borough to schedule public hearings if it were being true to its idealistic principles regarding the free exchange of ideas, even if such hearings might require it to modify some aspects of the Plan. I happen to think there is a “sweet spot” where the College and the community will be able to reach an agreement. But if the College goes forward with this roundabout plan without such hearings, the animus it creates will last a long time. Residents will come away from the experience distrusting their elected representatives, and will come to think of the ville as a “company town”.

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