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Econ Professor Jadrian Wooten Discusses High Rises, Changing Downtown Landscape

It’s no secret that downtown State College is changing before our eyes. Two new high rise apartment buildings – The Met and The Rise – are already open for business. Now, two more high rises are under construction – one at the former site of California Tortilla, and the other at the former Garner Street Parking Lot.

Everyone has a take about these apartment buildings. Some argue that these high rises ruin the charm of State College, while others believe more apartment options in a crowded market outweigh their potential costs.

We asked economics professor Jadrian Wooten about how the influx of high rises changes the State College landscape.

“Basically, there are these student apartment compounds in different areas. Essentially, these high rises are just moving people in from outside of town,” explained Wooten, who specializes in microeconomic fields like industrial organization and labor economics. “What was happening before they built them — because they had the height limits — is that you saw the creation of all of these ancillary student housing options. Now, you’re seeing the students come back downtown.”

Wooten likes the idea of students being more concentrated downtown. In fact, he believes they “need” to be downtown. One benefit of college, he argues, is being connected to people. Living downtown allows students to go to events on campus, see different speakers, and generally participate in college life.

Wooten theorizes that before these high rises went up, there were students who wanted to live downtown, but weren’t willing to live in a run-down apartment that was still rather expensive. The nicest apartments were outside of the borough, so people flocked there.

“People had to decide, ‘Do I want to live downtown in a falling-down apartment or do I want to live in a nicer apartment outside of town and have to commute?'” Wooten said.

Now, there are four price points and apartment situations: downtown and run-down, downtown and nice, outside of town and run-down, and outside of town and nice.

Wooten says that “more options are always better,” which makes sense in terms of aligning renters more closely with their ideal living situations.

Wooten believes that the prices for a typical State College apartment (read: run-down and old) will fall marginally. Students who could afford to live downtown and were willing to live in suboptimal conditions had gradually been forcing prices for these apartments upwards. This, in turn, allowed landlords to ignore renovations while increasing prices.

But don’t get your hopes up when it comes to landlords renovating apartments.

“I don’t think they’re going to raise the standards,” Wooten explained. “I just think they won’t raise rents. The competition now just gets rid of their wealthiest residents. Rather than having a $1,000 studio, they’re just going to mark it at $900 to make sure the spot’s filled. I don’t think they’re going to update anything at all.”

Ideally, high rises would come in and the worst apartments would be forced to upgrade, but Wooten doesn’t think it will play out like this. Instead, he believes students who were living outside of town, and wouldn’t pay $1,000 for a downtown studio, will be willing to pay $900.

Professor Wooten is clearly a proponent of high rises. Part of that support for more student housing comes from flaws in the idea that high rises threaten and ruin State College’s charm.

“I’m always shocked at how run-down downtown State College actually seems,” Wooten said with a laugh. “If you take a step back and take off the Penn State goggles a little bit, you’ll see busted up sidewalks, peeling paint all over the place, and trash everywhere. It’s kind of a run-down downtown.”

Downtown State College is increasingly becoming more student-centric as high rises, stores, and restaurants for the student population replace older establishments.

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About the Author

Derek Bannister

Derek is a senior majoring in Economics and History. He is legally required to tell you that he's from right outside of Philly. Email Derek compliments and dad-jokes at [email protected].

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