HOLLIDAYSBURG - After more than a decade of failed development attempts, the owner of the historic Highland Hall in Hollidaysburg is seeking an option to raze the building.
RADD Development Co. President Ralph J. Albarano Jr. sent the borough a letter at the end of June asking for the option to raze the more than 140-year-old structure, "in lieu of restoring and developing the existing building as was our original intent."
The letter goes on to explain how "extensive renovations" and "inherent costs" stalled agreements to lease or sell the property, and the local and national economy has "severely thwarted these efforts."
The company has sunk "tens of thousands of dollars and many man hours," including maintenance, into the property, the letter said.
"Highland Hall is virtually becoming an eyesore and a home for vandals in lieu of the stately edifice it once was," the letter said. "We will continue our quest; however, we must have the ability to develop the property without the existing building being a detriment in lieu of an asset."
The company has owned the property since December 1998.
Albarano, who has been "extremely cooperative" with the borough, is seeking the option, not permission, to raze the building, Borough Manager Mark Schroyer said.
Restoring the hall is still an option, Albarano said Thursday. Doing so would be costly with everything, save the exterior walls, needing attention.
Seeking the option to raze was a first step, Albarano said. The second is to see if there is interest for development with the building gone.
The process over the years has been difficult, he said.
Meanwhile, the building keeps deteriorating and money is slipping through his fingers.
Albarano had to turn down a $350,000 revolving-loan fund from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, Schroyer said. Albarano was "instrumental" in the borough securing the grant, he added.
Highland Hall was once considered an option for a new Hollidaysburg Area Public Library. In 2006, the library nixed that choice.
In 2008, the Commonwealth Financing Authority granted a $1.1 million low-interest loan to convert the structure into 10 high-end apartments and office space. The total budget of the plan was about $5 million.
Several months later, most of the Highland Hall area was re-zoned to the Highland Hall Special District, Schroyer said.
Variances on setback issues were also granted at one point, he said.
Council members plan to take a tour of the building before their next meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Schroyer said. Many of them want to see its condition, he said.
Councilman Tim Baranik said he wasn't trying to evade questions, but is "still researching" the matter and would have "more to say" later.
Councilman Tim Beresnyak said it would be a shame for such a beautiful building to go.
The restoration is expensive, but that's something Albarano had to know when he bought it, Beresnyak said.
Highland Hall was not on council's agenda Thursday for next week's meeting, however, Schroyer said.
Some council members want to hear the borough Historical Architectural Review Board's view and gather other information, Schroyer said.
Schroyer compared Highland Hall to Braemar Cottage in Cresson. His point was while residents might want to save Highland Hall, it comes down to the economics, he said.
The owner faces a Catch-22 with making an economic commitment and securing tenants, Schroyer said.
"That's the big thing," he said.
Schroyer, who has served as borough manager for two years, said he doesn't possess the "historical perspective" or "emotional attachment" to Highland Hall, so viewing it from a business standpoint he believes the option of tearing it down "at least, has to be considered."
Judy Ricker's front porch on Spruce Street faces the boarded-up windows of Highland Hall.
"It's so disheartening with so much history there and the community didn't take the time to preserve it," she said.
Ricker has written several letters to council and others concerning the property, she said. The property is too expensive for the community to buy it, though, she said.
The inside is "just terrible," she said.
Ricker remembered "beautiful stained-glass windows," since broken, and how the military was even housed there once. She suggested a college buy the property as a satellite campus.
Tom and Kasey Prokop of Walnut Street don't want to see the building torn down.
"It's Hollidaysburg," Kasey Prokop said.
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.