Authority explores new hotel

The authority responsible for the Blair County Convention Center wants to know if a developer might be interested in building a lodging property on the convention center grounds.

While acreage bordering the convention center grounds has long been posted as available for development, that didn’t keep the Convention Center and Sports Facilities Authority from directing Chairman Richard Karcher to compose a request for proposals and see if it draws interest.

Authority members agreed that the convention center could benefit if it had lodging on its own grounds.

Groups that have considered the convention center have gone elsewhere for lack of on-site lodging, Karcher said.

The neighboring Courtyard by Marriott has 105 rooms, but Karcher and Convention Center General Manager Barry Kumpf said it guarantees only 30 rooms to convention center groups interested in planning overnight meetings or multi-day conferences and conventions.

That makes it difficult, Kumpf said, when hosting large groups like the one that brought 400 people this week to the convention center for a three-day event.

“It’s hard to entertain 400 people for three days when only 30 of them have rooms next door,” Kumpf said.

Karcher said he attempted to address this issue by contacting the Courtyard by Marriott management and its ownership group, Chatham Lodging Trust, and has had no response.

Kumpf also pointed out that since 2010, Altoona has lost 352 lodging rooms. That includes 300 at the Altoona Ramada, which was slated to be part of a multi-faceted veterans educational effort with housing.

“That’s partly what was lost with the closing of the Ramada,” authority member Donna Gority, former Blair County commissioner said. “It was the only full-service hotel with its restaurant and lounge.”

Authority member Richard Johnson said he understands the Altoona Ramada will be reopening but offered no specifics. Johnson also said he understands the Convention Center Commons project, proposed for the 31-acre site across from the convention center, is expected to move forward this summer with a groundbreaking.

Plans for that site, under development by Fiore Brothers Management, show a 99-room hotel, restaurant and multi-screen movie theater. The plans have already undergone review by local governmental leaders who agreed to five years of discounted real estate taxes through the state’s Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Program.

Karcher said the idea behind the request for proposals is “to see who’s out there” and who might be interested in working with the convention center authority. He also reminded authority members that those attending conventions often take time to meet in hotel restaurants and lounges.

“Go for it,” Gority told Karcher.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Blair County Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. said.