Commons receives $2M grant

The state has awarded a $2 million grant to the Altoona-Blair County Development Corp. to support the proposed Convention Center Commons development in Allegheny Township.

That money, awarded through the state’s Economic Growth Initiative, will cover a portion of the estimated $8 million for infrastructure in the first phase of the three-phase project, ABCD Corp. Director Marty Marasco said Tuesday. Infrastructure includes utility work, site preparation and some road work, he said.

The second phase of the project initiated by Fiore Brothers Management calls for building the commercial development on the estimated 28-acre site across from the Blair County Convention Center. As previously announced, the development will feature a 99-room Holiday Inn Express, a 12-screen Carmike movie theater and a building for smaller retail shops.

Construction of a three-story office building, Marasco said, is the project’s third phase.

“Economic Growth Initiatives are energizing local economies around our state,” Gov. Tom Corbett said in a statement announcing the $2 million grant to ABCD. “We are transforming oft-neglected parts of our towns into thriving centers of commerce and recreation.”

Convention Center Commons is planned for what’s now an undeveloped hilly site that local governing bodies agreed to put into a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Program, which allows five years of tax breaks before the property becomes fully taxed.

Without development, the site would continue generating about $5,000 annually in real estate taxes, developer Michael Fiore told local officials last fall.

Based on the proposed construction and development of Convention Center Commons, the governor’s office estimates that the project will create and/or retain about 800 jobs and generate $1.85 million annually in tax revenue.

In addition to the grant to ABCD, the governor’s office also announced an EGI grant of $1 million for JWF Industries of Cambria County.

JWF, a leading manufacturer of products that support the natural gas industry, is renovating and expanding its former Cramer Pike facility along Route 403, a former World War II munitions and rail car factory. It hopes to double its employment to nearly 200 workers in the next five years.

The Economic Growth Initiative was formerly known as the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program until it was redesigned in 2012 to reflect stricter, merit-based selection process for projects that focus on job-creation potential, economic impact, as well as their viability and construction readiness.

The infrastructure work for the Convention Center Commons should get started within the next two to three weeks, Marasco estimated.