February 05, 2009

Artist's rendering of the downtown bookstore.

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By Tom Evelyn

LEWISBURG, Pa. – The Bucknell University Board of Trustees has approved developing a University bookstore in downtown Lewisburg and to use as the primary funding source money provided by the state for economic development, President Brian C. Mitchell announced today.

“Plans will now be formalized to chart the development of the new bookstore, including formal timelines for the construction and renovation of the new facility, discussions with private bookstore chains as to the merits of such an arrangement, and establishment of plans to renovate the (Elaine Langone Center) bookstore space for its new purposes within the student center,” Mitchell said in a summary of the board’s weekend meeting. || See complete summary.

Early plans for the proposed 29,000-square-foot bookstore, which will occupy the northwest corner of Fourth and Market streets, include a larger inventory of books, CDs, DVDs and sportswear, as well as a café and spaces for poetry readings and musical performances. The bookstore will likely be open seven days a week and have much longer hours than the campus bookstore is able to provide.

Construction timeline
Timelines for construction are being developed, but the bookstore could open by fall 2010.

The proposed bookstore will cost about $9 million, two-thirds of which has already been secured by the University from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as part of the state’s commitment to investing in the state’s small towns. To date, Bucknell has received $12.25 million in various program funds from Pennsylvania for the Lewisburg Core Community Initiative, a series of economic and cultural development projects, including the bookstore.

Whether it partners with a private bookstore chain to manage the facility or does so itself, the University has committed to the bookstore’s paying municipal and county tax revenues as part of Bucknell’s close relationship with Lewisburg and Union County. It intends to develop the facility in a manner that advances the campus-community connection, increases foot traffic downtown and provides a catalyst for other development while making available 12,500 square feet of needed space in the Langone Center for other University uses, including student organization meeting and office space.

Under discussion two years
The idea of a downtown bookstore has been under discussion by the board for two years, and has involved analyses by outside consultants Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott and Brailsford & Dunlavey, two of the country’s top campus and community development firms. Its planning also has included extensive discussions on campus and with the mayor of Lewisburg, the Downtown Lewisburg Partnership Board, and the Lewisburg community.

Bucknell planners also looked at other universities where similar downtown university bookstores have been established, including Johns Hopkins, William and Mary, and Colgate, among others.

Bucknell is still deciding whether the downtown bookstore will be run by the University or operated by an outside vendor, such as Barnes & Noble. At least one private bookstore company with which the University has had discussions offers online ordering and mail service delivery.

Impact on employees
“We recognize that it is imperative to make time in this project for adjustments to the bookstore’s move downtown and are sensitive to its impact on employees of the (campus) bookstore,” Mitchell said, adding that the University will retain control or ownership of the land and building downtown, regardless of any agreement it may enter with a private chain to manage the store.

To that effect, the University is committed to a smooth transition for current bookstore staff, including in particular positions, salaries and benefits.

“Our bookstore staff is highly skilled and experienced, with a tremendous knowledge of the campus and local community, and we are confident potential partners will welcome our intent to express with great conviction our belief in their importance to the downtown bookstore’s success,” Mitchell said.

New jobs
In addition to existing staff, the new bookstore is expected to generate as many as 17 new jobs.

During its weekend meeting, the board also discussed several other projects that may be pursued when funding becomes available, including an administrative office building, an inn and conference center and affiliated garage, and new athletics facilities. There are no plans to proceed on these projects at this time given the economic climate.

Contact: Division of Communications