by Bridget Dwyer
George Arnold, newly appointed executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District (DSCID), states that his professional background makes him the perfect man to juggle the many roles necessary to be successful in his new position.
Arnold was selected in February by the DSCID’s Board of Directors to replace former Executive Director Jody Alessandrine. According to its website, the DSCID has a simple mission: “To provide a safe, clean environment in State College Borough and to enhance the image of Downtown State College to encourage people to live here, work here, play here, and visit here.”
Alessandrine left in July after almost three years to lead the downtown district of Tom’s River, NJ. In July, he told StateCollege.com that unless the borough makes changes that bring in more tax revenue, he sees financial trouble in its future.
Arnold agrees that now is a critical time for the downtown area and the DSCID in particular. Since it has been serving State College for ten years, he feels it is now critical that the DSCID takes a step back to assess how well it is serving the well-being of the downtown area.
Arnold asserts that he is just the man to do that because of his previous experience as a project superintendent with Berks Homes. According to Arnold, this position taught him how to balance the customers’ desires for their houses with restrictions being placed on them by the local zoning offices and the developer.
Arnold claims that this experience with negotiation and communication between multiple parties will help him juggle the interests of the DSCID’s clients—downtown businesses and property owners— with the borough and the university.
Indeed, Arnold’s main goal as executive director is to make sure the groups invested in the downtown are satisfied, whether this means replacing facades or sidewalks, or just listening to their concerns. In his first few months of his job, this has meant meeting with everyone that has a vested interest in the downtown district, including retailers, business owners, CATA the Tourism Bureau, and the university.
Arnold’s longtime ties to the area made him a logical choice for the position. He studied a fusion of management, architecture, and communications at Penn State before graduating in 1992. He stayed in the area because of the wide variety of activities the town offered while still maintaining its tightly knit, small-town feeling.
“I grew up in an area that was busier, with more traffic,” Arnold said. “I love the balance of being able to drive ten or even five minutes to hike, five to the Bryce Jordan Center, or five to the Eisenhower Auditorium.”
While Arnold acknowledges some changes in the retail environment downtown since his college days, he does not think the changes have been too drastic. He claims that the area today appeals to all demographics and family sizes, not just college students.
“There is still a nice atmosphere downtown,” he said. “It is still similar.”
Still, downtown continues to change, and the DSCID aims to participate in its evolution. Most notably, the DSCID has invested a lot of time into the Fraser Centre which, according to the project’s website will include 25,000 square feet of retail space, a 10-screen Cineplex, two levels of office space and 28 condominiums.
“If that project can be completed, it can bring more retail—more quality retail—that can make downtown a destination for people to shop and visit from out of town,” Arnold said.
He claims that the trend of national chains moving into downtown can bring in visitors, but that it is important to find a balance between big chains like Urban Outfitters and the smaller, locally owned stores like Sydney Macs and Flesh Décor.
“The good news is – particularly for a company like Urban Outfitters – since the only other two in the state are in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, people from Williamsport and Altoona are coming here to shop,” Arnold said.
While many criticize the convenience of reaching downtown due to limited parking, Arnold argues that the downtown area is accessible to out-of-towners, noting that, despite what some think, parking in the district is rarely at a hundred percent. The DSCID works especially hard to bring in tourists during the summer months, when students are out of town. That is the goal of the 6th Annual Summer’s Best Music Fest and the Arts Bazaar on June 30 which aims to support local artists and retailers.
“We’re creating a whole day of music downtown,” he said. “The idea is [to] have a variety of music, something for everyone and family-friendly.”
In addition, through advertisements and financial assistance, the DSCID regularly supports downtown events that attract visitors from beyond Centre County, such as a performance on the Old Main Lawn by the cast of Beatlemania on July 31.
While enhancing tourism is a major priority of the DSCID, Arnold feels the majority of his energy needs to be concentrated closer to home.
“I am trying to make sure we’re serving our customers…that we are doing the right thing to make downtown State College a place that people want to bring their families,” said Arnold.