Organizers are working to create a new home for the performing arts at State College

Standing in the parking lot at the corner of Pugh Street and Beaver Avenue in downtown State College this summer, Jim Latten saw not just a place to park his car, but a space for orchestra performances, art exhibits, theater and dance performances.

Jim Latten, chairman of the Nittany Performing Arts Center board of trustees, stands outside the Pugh Street parking garage at State College. The organization hopes to create a performing arts center on the site.

“People would walk into the main lobby facing Beaver Avenue and walk into the theater,” said Latten, chairman of the Nittany Performing Arts Center board of trustees.

The objective of the organization is to create a home where the musical and artistic groups of the region can practice and present professional and community productions. A performing arts community center in downtown State College has been in the works for some time, and organizers say they’re getting closer to realizing the idea, including recently unveiling design plans.

“We’re all looking for rehearsal space, performance space,” said Latten, who is a professor of music at Juniata College.

Nittany Performing Arts Center Lobby
This artist’s rendering of plans for the Nittany Performing Arts Center shows the lobby. Organizers have worked with Wilson Butler Architects on designs for the project, which they hope to locate on Pugh Street and East Beaver Avenue. The next step will be fundraising.

The idea has been under discussion for several years. This year, organizers worked with an architect on a conceptual design plan to create the center of the city. These plans include a large 800-seat theater, a smaller “Black Box” theater, a hall that could be used for art exhibitions, and a room for offices. A parking garage and an indoor-outdoor rooftop area for gatherings are also being designed.

“We kind of got lucky in this idea that the roof of the building will be a few stories higher than what we see now with the Pugh Street garage,” Latten said. “So it will overlook all the trees and be able to see Old Main from there. And it’s really a fantastic place for weddings, wedding receptions, Penn State retirement parties, other things like that there -high.”

Roof of the Nittany Performing Arts Center
This rendering of the Nittany Performing Arts Center shows views from the rooftop, which could include indoor and outdoor space with views of the Penn State campus. Organizers have worked with Wilson Butler Architects on the designs for the project, presenting them in the summer of 2022. They hope to build the center where the Pugh Street car park currently sits.

The Borough of State College owns the parking lot. Borough Director Tom Fountaine said the borough supports the project and is working with the organizers of the art center.

Fountaine said the parking lot was aging and, based on reports from structural engineers, it likely had about five years left.

“The borough plans to build a replacement garage before Pugh is decommissioned,” Fountaine said in an email. The borough council should take public action to transfer ownership to the arts center.

Latten said the project had no specific timeline. They will work on fundraising.

“We started with very meager basic ideas,” he said. “But we’re now very excited about the possibilities, and now we’re just hoping that the finances can come in and make it a reality like they have elsewhere.”

These include performing arts centers in Findlay, Ohio; Beaverton, Oregon; Burlington, Ontario; and Madison, Wisconsin.

A rendering of the Nittany Performing Arts Center stage.
A rendering of the Nittany Performing Arts Center stage. Organizers have worked with Wilson Butler Architects on the designs for the project, presenting them in the summer of 2022. They hope to build the center where the Pugh Street car park currently sits.