Entrepreneur-Turned-Dinosaur Transforming State College
While dinosaurs may be extinct, a T. Rex costume is revolutionizing the State College area. Even though you won’t see his face or know it’s him, you can find local entrepreneur, designer, and self-described change-agent Christian Baum downtown anachronistically standing out from the everyday activity.
“I originally just had the costume as a fun thing to mess around with. I started to think of what I could actually do with it in the area to promote the innovation ecosystem that we have here,” he said.
Baum is the co-founder of New Leaf, a local agency that encourages idea-sharing and networking within a community. New Leaf aims to connect influential people across disciplines and interests by providing an open space anyone can use to work, network, or simply just hang out with people like Baum.
One of the main points of focus for Baum wearing his costume has been bridging the gap between local politics and the general public. The State College Police (located just two floors below New Leaf’s office/hangout), and Mayor Elizabeth Goreham (whose office is on the same floor as New Leaf) have developed relationships with Baum because of his free-spirited antics. The police have even asked him to entertain them by running around town in his costume so they can watch him on the surveillance cameras. Goreham sees him on a daily basis, often invites him in to talk about his ideas, and is always up to take pictures with the town’s “oldest” resident.
“I want to desensitize the people and businesses in the area to weird stuff,” Baum said. “This town is very traditional and hasn’t innovated. As an area, Centre County is always losing young people and their talent. We’re trying to create those openings for the new trends and fun things and then experiment on a really bare bones level to get people used to them.”
He RSVP’d as the dinosaur to the Centre Foundation’s Annual Dinner at the Nittany Lion Inn and will wear the costume to the philanthropic event next week. Other future stops for Baum include Centre County PAWS and the Schlow Centre Region Library.
“I just want to give back and serve the community…but in a weird way,” he said.
Baum’s efforts have spread across College Ave. and onto the campus. Students have been popping up all over the place wearing the same blowup, gawky costume. You can see them on Snapchat stories, in bar lines, or in Saturday’s case, Beaver Stadium’s video board.
We asked for the roar to be brought to Beaver Stadium at new levels this #PSUWhiteout.
Students took that request very, very seriously. pic.twitter.com/qmDQoSwjNQ
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) October 23, 2016
“I feel like I get a text every three days from people telling me that they just saw me on campus even though I’m just hanging out at New Leaf,” Baum said. “We haven’t collaborated or connected yet but maybe we will do something in the future.”
The dinosaur costume is only part of the work that Baum and his colleagues are doing at New Leaf. He intends to use it all to breed a richer, more avant-garde culture in State College.
“A lot of what we do is [an attempt] to reinvigorate the urban core,” he said. “Because Innovation Park isn’t in town, we want to bring all of the weird, quirky, new things that are targeting young people and put them in the middle of everything right off of College Ave. There are such unique social offerings around here and we are trying to provide new outlets for everyone other than school, drinking, and football by doing cool shit.”
While already a funky twist on a typical office space with earthy furnishings and vibrant colors, New Leaf’s headquarters will undergo a renovation in the coming months. It will transform into a clubhouse — complete with slides, a river, a tree house, and a sandbox. All inside. In the Municipal Building.
That sandbox embodies the quintessence of Baum’s vision for New Leaf and the State College culture.
“The winter here sucks…to put it lightly,” he said. “We want to put a sandbox in the office and have heat lamps to make people feel like they’re outside. But more importantly, it goes with how we view this area.”
Baum’s started referring to State College as a sandbox town. “The sand is all there and you have the ability to go play with it. This is a town with some of the most brilliant minds in the world across the street at a school that has 750,000 alumni. It has all the resources in the world — they’re just waiting to be played with.”