Grow in Greater Reading, PA

CollegeTowne sparks downtown revitalization in Greater Reading.

By
Cindy Sanders
On Thursday, April 1, 2021 - 15:56
pa

The hum of a drill or the rapid beat of a jackhammer – where some might simply hear construction noise, others recognize the exciting rhythm of revitalization. 

Aaron Gantz, executive director of Downtown Development for the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance (GRCA), is firmly in the latter camp. 

During the last decade, more than $250 million has been invested in Reading’s downtown district. Yet, Gantz notes, it’s really been over the past two years the city has reached the critical mass necessary to reimagine downtown as a vibrant urban neighborhood. “Live, learn, work, play – those are the pillars that will create a successful downtown Reading,” she says. 

Much of the recent activity is tied to CollegeTowne, an exciting project by Alvernia University. A model for championing downtown redevelopment, the ambitious undertaking expands the main campus in the 18th Ward to the city center, located just minutes away. 

“We’re really creating servant leaders with great thinking skills and technical skills to build a career and impact the community,” John Loyack, president of Alvernia University, says of the university’s mission. 

“Live, learn, work, play – those are the pillars that will create a successful downtown Reading.” 

Aaron Gantz, Executive Director of Downtown Development 

CollegeTowne breathes life into that mission, he continues, by providing space for students to not only take classes but also gain hands-on, real-world experience helping entrepreneurs grow their companies, all while living just steps away. 

Alvernia purchased 401 Penn Street in the summer of 2020. By August 2021, the plan is to house business, engineering and communications programs in the 260,000-square-foot building, along with loft-style apartments for upper classmen. 

A business incubator, in partnership with GRCA and other county organizations, is a key component of CollegeTowne and will be housed within the O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship. 

The business incubator, which launched from its temporary home in early 2020, already has a waitlist. “It’s a one-stop, nonstop shop to get from idea to funding and early-stage operations,” Loyack explains. Student fellows and a robust mentor network support entrepreneurs throughout the process. 

pa
Courtesy of Greater Reading Chamber Alliance

While CollegeTowne is new to Reading, Loyack was involved in a similar project at his previous academic post and witnessed the exponential development that followed. “It has a way of creating momentum in the city,” he notes. 

“We are starting to see it already happen,” Gantz agrees, pointing to four other significant projects underway in the blocks surrounding CollegeTowne. “This level of development attracts other developers,” she continues. “It becomes a starting point for a conversation with investors.” 

Gantz says downtown already serves as a cultural hub for the city with a renowned public arts program, live entertainment and outstanding dining scene. Now those venues are being enhanced by new luxury apartments, retail offerings and corporate ventures. 

“Downtown Reading is ready for new opportunities, growth and investment. We invite you to be part of the momentum,” Gantz says. “The team at Greater Reading Chamber Alliance is here to help you find your dream property and connect you to the resources to turn that dream into a reality.”