The University Club, 331 W. College Ave. Photo of Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
Between Porter Road on the east and North Atherton Street on the west, a single property on the north side of College Avenue in the heart of downtown State College is not owned by Penn State.
That’s about to change.
Pending approval by the full board on Friday, the university plans to purchase the 0.64-acre University Club property at 331 W. College Ave. for $4.07 million. The Finance, Business and Capital Planning Trust Committee unanimously recommended approval of the acquisition at its meeting on Thursday morning.
The university intends to demolish the 108-year-old University Club building due to the significant costs that would be required for the renovations, which Senior Vice President of Finance and Business Sara Thorndike said was estimated at “a few million dollars”.
The cost of the demolition is estimated at “just under a million dollars”, including “a fair amount” of asbestos reduction, according to Bill Sitzabee, vice president of facilities management and planning .
James Collins, chairman of the nonprofit college club’s board of directors, told StateCollege.com that the club will evaluate options for a new location. Proceeds from the sale will be retained by the club, which is a 501c7 organization as a non-profit social club, and will not be paid out to any individual.
The University Club is entirely surrounded by other Penn State properties, with the West Campus Steam Plant to the east, 101 N. Atherton St. (which was purchased by the university in 2020) to the west and the applied research laboratory in the north.
What Penn State plans to do with the package remains unclear. The agenda for the Trustees’ meeting states that “the intention is to assemble the plot with adjacent property owned by the University”.
“Our goal is really to have the land for future opportunities,” Thorndike said, calling the property a “critical connection point.”
A Penn State spokesperson said the university is “evaluating various plans for the property” and will release information when a final decision is made.
Penn State sold the parcel to the University Club for $1 in 1913 for the sole use of building and operating a social club with residential rooms. The deed gave Penn State the right of first refusal if the club sold the property.
The University Club hosted social events for club members, rented out its space for other events, and rented rooms to university students, faculty, and staff with short-term rental options.
Collins said that as a deal approached, the club stopped renting rooms. It has two tenants who were aware of the current sale and who are moving out by the end of the month.
The club hasn’t had any employees in recent years, instead contracting out services.
A coincidence led the club to offer the property for sale to the university, Collins said.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the club had done well financially and had accumulated reserves which they planned to use for renovations to the aging building. But with the pandemic, “our population has shrunk,” Collins said, and reserves were needed to keep the club afloat.
At the same time, one of the University Club’s main draws for tenants was its location, but it “couldn’t compete” with the construction boom of modern apartment buildings downtown, Collins said. .
These factors, along with the club’s aging membership demographics and the condition of the building in need of significant maintenance and renovations, led to the club’s board of directors’ decision to offer Penn State what Collins called ” an impressive gateway” to the University Park campus.
“We felt we were doing a good thing for ourselves and for the university,” he said.
With the sale in sight, the University Club donated furniture and other items from the building to local nonprofits, including Out of the Cold: Center County, Interfaith Human Services, and Habitat for Humanity.
“We are excited about our future, whatever it may be, and to see Penn State’s plans [for the property]“, said Collins.