Over the past three years, the office developed and implemented a Downtown Engagement Initiative designed to familiarize students with shopping and dining venues. Events included a Downtown Scavenger Hunt and Downtown Dinner and a Movie Nite, as well as discounts for students and special promotions. According to a spring 2014 survey, the initiative has led to a marked increase in student awareness and patronage of businesses in downtown Scranton.
Based on a comparison of this year’s survey and a survey conducted in 2011, more University students are going to downtown to retail shops, restaurants and entertainment activities. The initiative has been particularly successful in increasing awareness among students of major community events such as First Fridays. For example, in 2011, 29 percent of freshmen were familiar with First Fridays. Three years later, 80 percent of those students, now seniors, are familiar with First Fridays, as are 68 percent of freshman from 2014. More importantly, 39 percent of freshmen from 2014 patronized First Friday events, versus 22 percent of their 2011 counterparts, a 17 percent increase.
According to Julie Schumacher Cohen, director of Community and Government Relations at the University, these large increases, together with consistent across-the-board gains in student familiarity with and patronage of downtown businesses, “validate that this engagement initiative is a long-term process and show that you have to educate the new students.”
“We really flow right into the downtown, and we think the data shows that there’s been a shift in the campus culture of how [students] view the downtown,” Cohen said.
Local business owners have seen evidence that the Initiative is working as well.
According to Joshua Mast, owner of Posh at the Scranton Club, a restaurant on North Washington Avenue, there have been increases in the number of students coming to the restaurant for lunch or dinner. Family weekends, holidays, and Commencement weekend have also brought more University-related guests to Posh.
“Our reservations for this year’s graduation were also higher than last year,” Mast said.
John and Lara Alexiou, owners of Steamtown Hot Yoga on North Washington Avenue, noted drastic increases in students practicing at their studio since their move from their Moosic Street location to downtown Scranton.
In addition to events designed to get students downtown, service opportunities like the Back to School Bonanza and the Downtown Planters project have helped to link the campus and the business community. Also successful has been the Royal Card Downtown program, which has been in a pilot phase.
“So far we see that students are using it, and we would look now in the next year to see how we would expand it,” Cohen said.
According to Cohen, another program, which has proved mutually beneficial to campus and community and is now pegged for expansion is the Internship Initiative, led by the Small Business Development Center at The University of Scranton. Within the pilot program, students have had the opportunity to intern at several Scranton businesses in various professional areas, including marketing, software development, human resources, accounting and communications.
The University’s Downtown Engagement Initiative is an effort made possible through partnerships with Scranton Tomorrow and the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce.