­Group to redevelop former silk mill

Revitalized building to include restaurant, office space, about 10 residential units

Courtesy rendering / This rendering shows what the old silk mill is expected to look like after redevelopment. The project is expected to create 150 jobs.

A local partnership is planning a $13 million redevelopment of the old silk mill next to the former Bon Secours property, after state officials Tuesday approved a $4 million grant and a $6 million low-interest loan for the project.

Silk Mills Properties Inc., headed by architect John Radionoff and three executives of the Leonard S. Fiore construction company, will demolish 80,000 square feet of the old factory, then turn the remaining 91,000 square feet into commercial and office space, a restaurant, a cafe and about 10 residential units, according to a news release from Altoona Blair County Development Corp. The project, slated to create 150 jobs, would seem to complement the ongoing redevelopment of the Bon Secours property, which Jeff Long is turning into one of his Graystone senior living centers.

The Business in Our Sites grant and loan were approved by the Commonwealth Financing Authority, according to State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, who said he wrote a support letter for the project and spoke favorably about it to members of the authority — without, he said, offering legislative favors in return for their votes.

ABCD Corp. will be the conduit for the grant, according to the news release.

Business in Our Sites loans are for 20 years at 2 or 3 percent interest, depending on the unemployment rate of the county where the project is located — provided the authority is first in line if the borrower defaults, according to the Department of Community and Economic Development website.

The interest rate is 8 or 9 percent for loans on which the authority isn’t first in line.

The Business in Our Sites loans are “patient” — no repayment being required until a property is sold or leased or until five years have elapsed from the day of closing, whichever comes first, according to the website.

The Business in Our Sites program goes for shovel-ready, speculative projects on previously used or undeveloped property that is planned and zoned for development, according to the website.

“We’re all excited to see this happen,” said Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico, “to revitalize that building and turn it into a good use of the space.”

The state funding was critical for the project to happen, Eichelberger said.

Located as it is next to the Graystone, the Silk Mills project may trigger further — and presumably unassisted — development in the area, based on the confidence the Graystone and Silk Mills inspire, Eichelberger said.

“You have to get to a critical mass,” he said.

A similar process has occurred in recent years downtown, beginning with the development of Penn State Altoona’s satellite campus there, he said.

The brick mill was built in the late 1800s and used for making garments until Warnaco closed it in 1991, according to the news release.

The partnership since then has maintained the building.

The part of the T-footprint building to be demolished is half the cross piece — a half-block segment that parallels 25th Street, starting at Eighth Avenue, Pacifico said.

The Business in Our Sites funding won’t contribute to the residential component of the project, according to the news release.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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