Water authority to buy Russo site

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County is selling the site of the former Russo building to the Altoona Water Authority.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to accept the authority’s offer of $96,000 for the vacant property at 31st Street and South Branch Avenue.

It was the only response to two advertisements for sealed bids, Chief Clerk Helen Schmitt said.

Commissioners set a minimum price of $83,000, based on appraisals, and showed no hesitation in accepting the authority’s offer.

“That is absolutely great news,” Commissioners Chairman Terry Tomassetti said.

Altoona Water Authority General Manager Mark Perry said the site will be used for additional storage of authority equipment and materials. It will also provide the authority with better access to an adjacent property the authority already owns.

“I think we’ll make good use of it for our needs,” Perry said.

Commissioners put the property up for sale as a way to recover some of the $133,000 the county initially invested in demolition and related costs. Until 2012, the site contained a large deteriorating brick structure that was originally a slaughterhouse, then later used as a storage facility. It was part of the late Tom Russo’s estate when Altoona declared it to be a public nuisance in 2007. Napoli Recycling of East Norwich, N.Y., later acquired the property and showed interest in making repairs but didn’t follow through.

After three years of unpaid real estate taxes, the responsibility for the property fell to Blair County.

Commissioners, concluding that the building posed a public safety risk, opted to demolish the structure.

“Until the building was razed, we didn’t pay much attention to that property,” Perry said. “When it became a vacant piece of ground, after it was wide open, I think that’s what started us thinking.”

After demolition, the county later withheld portions of tax revenue from the Altoona Area School District and the city to cover what commissioners contended should be an expense shared by the taxing bodies. That prompted a protest by city officials who in turn sued the county. In its response to the lawsuit, the county said that any sale proceeds would be divided in a similar fashion with the city and school district.