Reading CollegeTowne is a strategy and model for championing economic redevelopment in downtown Reading. Through partnerships and collaborations with the City of Reading and local businesses and organizations, Alvernia serves as a strategic enabler for strengthening the local economy downtown.


Starting with purchasing a vacant building and then adding academic programming, a business incubator within Alvernia’s O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship and eventually student housing, Alvernia becomes a key leader in reviving engagement and energy in downtown Reading.


See the latest news surrounding Reading CollegeTowne.



Reading CollegeTowne FAQs

Why does Alvernia want a presence in downtown Reading?

Alvernia has a long history of community engagement for which it is nationally recognized. Whether it’s through the established Reading Collegiate Scholars and College Readiness Programs, the South Reading Youth Initiative, Oakbrook community programs or after-school projects at Millmont and Tyson-Schoener Elementary Schools, Alvernia has a track record of identifying and meeting the needs of its community. Expanding into downtown Reading is a natural progression for Alvernia.

How is Reading CollegeTowne a part of Alvernia's Franciscan mission?

As a Franciscan institution, Alvernia’s mission compels it to be a source of transformation for students and the communities it serves, as St. Francis of Assisi was during his day. Just as St. Francis played a critical role in rebuilding the Church, Alvernia, collaborating with other partners, will play a key role in the revitalization of the City of Reading.

What will happen with Alvernia's presence in other areas of the city such as the 18th Ward?

The 18th Ward is Alvernia’s home, so its commitment to supporting this neighborhood will not change. The university continues to work closely with community leaders and residents to transform the 18th Ward into a sustainable, connected and beautiful community that strengthens the fabric and foundation of the City of Reading.

What does Alvernia's presence in downtown Reading mean for other higher education institutions in Berks County?

Collaboration is the cornerstone for the Reading CollegeTowne model, and working together, colleges and universities are stronger, particularly in securing funding to support academic programming and community engagement. With Reading Area Community College already downtown, and Alvernia to follow, the university encourages more institutions to join Reading CollegeTowne. 

Who are current partners of Reading CollegeTowne?

Alvernia is partnering with the Berks County Community Foundation, City of Reading, Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, and Berks Alliance. Additionally, several elected officials at local and state levels have been very supportive of the initiatives.

Why would anyone want to go into the city?

The college town concept is not new. It flourishes in cities such as Baltimore, Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre. What better way to prepare students for the real world than to provide them with experiential learning opportunities such as a business incubator and real experience in a city? Going into the city also helps to change the narrative so that downtown Reading is associated with positive experiences. 

What is a business incubator?

A business incubator provides training and support to help develop new and startup companies. As a space for student-centered ideas and exploring program opportunities for strategic growth, it serves as a catalyst for local or regional economic development. To support its academic programs, Alvernia is partnering with the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance and the Berks County Community Foundation to establish a student-centered business incubator in downtown Reading.

What other kinds of programs will Alvernia offer in downtown Reading?

In addition to a student-centered business incubator, Alvernia will work with its faculty and staff to explore other opportunities such as applied engineering, business, physician assistant and e-sports programs in downtown Reading.

How will this impact the university's recruitment strategy?

Given the types of new programs under consideration, the profile of Alvernia’s student body in downtown Reading will change, becoming more diverse, independent, academically stronger and from higher-income areas. This mix of students combined with Alvernia’s current population provides a powerful blend that strengthens a newly re-imagined downtown.

How long will it take to see signs of Reading CollegeTowne? 

When building a facility from scratch, it may take as long as 7-10 years when combining planning, funding, design and architectural stages. Since the Reading CollegeTowne model is predicated on the use of vacant buildings, the completion time is much faster and more efficient economically. Since Reading already has several amenities, including a world-class hotel, an arena that draws national talent, an award-winning museum, restaurants and movie theater, it is possible to see the first signs of Reading CollegeTowne as early as one year.

Where in downtown Reading will Alvernia locate its new programs? 

In June 2020 Alvernia acquired the building at 401 Penn Street which will serve as the University's first physical presence downtownand is the centerpiece of Reading CollegeTowne initiative.The site is the former CNA building located at 401 Penn Street. 401 Penn Street will serve as the university’s first physical presence of its new strategic direction and will be the home of new and expanded academic programming and extra-curricular activities, including engineering, business, communications and esports. The building will also include student housing, as the university is expecting a record incoming class this fall, and will create opportunities for new community engagement activity.

How is the O'Pake Institute connected to Reading CollegeTowne?

The newly re-engineered O’Pake Institute will serve as a catalyst for educational and business expansion, including the student-centered business incubator, in downtown Reading.

Why change the name and direction of the O'Pake Center?

Formerly known as the O’Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Public Service, the new entity is now called the O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship. Through the recent name change, the O’Pake Institute expands its scope, supporting the Reading CollegeTowne strategy for downtown, strengthening experiential learning opportunities for students and generating economic development in Reading. Changing the name also provides clear distinctions between O’Pake and Alvernia’s Holleran Center for Community and Global Engagement.

Who will lead the newly transformed O'Pake Institute?

Alvernia has appointed Dr. Rodney Ridley to lead the O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship. He will be responsible for developing a student-centered business incubator within the O’Pake Institute and leading efforts to explore applied engineering and business programs in downtown Reading. Ridley moves into a position previously held by Dr. Rudy Ruth, who recently became the executive director of Alvernia’s Holleran Center.

What happens to the ethics, leadership and public service aspects of the O'Pake Institute?

Ethical leadership and service will remain key components of the O’Pake Institute, as these tenets are at the heart of the Alvernia mission and values. These components are not abandoned but will live on in the academic division. In fact, Alvernia’s Department of Leadership is in its fourth year and has been operating independently of the institute. With world-class leadership and ethics programs at the master’s and doctoral levels, the department will continue programs, enhanced by a multi-disciplinary approach including community engagement and service opportunities. Reporting structures will not change. All deans will continue to report to the provost.

How do you get involved with Reading CollegeTowne?

Please contact the O'Pake Institute at 610-796-8237.