What was known for years as Parcel 19 at Ninth Avenue and 17th Street has been transformed from a struggling shopping mall into a health care facility.
Today, the Station Medical Center is home to 13 tenants, six of which are medical tenants. More than 800 people are employed there, and more than 11,000 patients and customers pass through it each week.
"That project probably represents the largest both in terms of acreage and square footage and investment, the largest single adaptable reuse of property in the history of the city," Patrick Miller, executive director of Greater Altoona Economic Development Corp., said. "I can't think of another project that combines the size and amount of investment that has taken place in any single project since the founding of the railroad."
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
Occupational therapist Nancy Forshey works with Todd Glunt of Altoona in the UPMC Altoona Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center at Station Medical Center at Ninth Avenue and 17th Street recently.
Blair Medical Associates is the largest tenant in terms of space and employees, taking up more than half of the 214,006 square feet of space. Its seven suites - all with railroad-themed names - house different specialties.
Other medical tenants include the UPMC Altoona Outpatient Center, FMC Altoona Dialysis Center, Mainline Medical Associates, University Orthopedics Center and Allegheny Pain Management.
Other tenants include McDonald's, Subway, First Commonwealth Bank, Altoona Regional Heath System Federal Credit Union and Kopp Drug.
"Miscellaneous tenants," which are not open to the public, include Elantic/Windstream and Verizon.
The Station Medical Center has become a key component to downtown Altoona.
"It is a true economic engine in the heart of the city," Miller said.
"Without a doubt, it is the most important piece of real estate in the downtown," Miller said.
"The Station Medical Center is an up-to-date 21st century medical services facility. Everything is on one floor. This is 21st century consumer medicine at its finest; this is as good as it gets," said David Duncan, SMC general manager.
The Station Medical Center came to life as a result of Blair Medical Associates' attempt to find a new location. Blair Medical's offices on Eighth Avenue were being acquired as part of the new Altoona Area Junior High School project.
Greater Altoona Economic Development Corp. suggested looking at the vacant Ames store site in the Station Mall. Ames had closed in 2002.
"We [GAEDC] were approached by a representative from Blair Medical; John Brown was CEO at the time. They were looking at a variety of locations for construction of a new facility and came up empty," Miller said. "I suggested to John ... to look at converting some of that square footage in Ames to house Blair Medical."
"We said why not buy it rather than lease?" said James Barner, then CEO of Altoona Regional Health System. "Blair Medical suggested maybe we should buy the entire mall."
Robert Montler, a board member of both the hospital and Blair Medical, agreed with Barner.
"I recommended they buy the Station Mall and turn it into an economic center. We didn't have enough room [at Ames], but there was enough to get it started. Once we got primary care, we could bring in specialties and then get a pharmacy," Montler said. "I said let's take the whole Station Mall, get a developer and you will never regret it."
In 2003, the board of directors of Central Pennsylvania Health Services Corp., the parent company of Altoona Regional and Blair Medical, approved the purchase of the property for $5 million.
A partnership - known as Lexington Mall Partners - comprised of LD Medical, a private investor; the hospital and a physicians group that works there was created to own and govern the future development and operations of the Station Medical Center.
"We needed to get a developer. The only ones around then were Don Devorris and Maurice Lawruk. We also got the doctors involved. We were able to get commercial developers willing to take a risk and brought in the physicians," Montler said.
Much renovation work was needed to turn what had opened in November 1977 as the Station Mall into a medical center.
"I think we have tried to maintain the heritage of the community by maintaining a railroad theme through the suites' names and entrances. The interior resembles a railroad station through the rafters," said Lynn Taddei, property administrator for Lexington Mall Partners. "We have technical advantages including Wi-Fi for our visitors. We have upgraded the fire and alarm systems, lighting and HVAC."
The Altoona Outpatient Medical Services Center opened in February 2011.
"It finished the Station Medical Center; I think of it as the anchor store of the western end. Blair Medical Associates, Mainline Medical and Allegheny Pain Management are the anchors at the eastern end," Duncan said.
"It gave the general public an opportunity to get a myriad of services under one roof rather than go to the hospital," Taddei said.
The opening was beneficial to the hospital as well as the community.
"UPMC at Station Medical Center provides fast, convenient outpatient services for our community in a beautiful, modern facility that allows us to provide the best possible service in a comfortable, safe environment," said David Cuzzolina, hospital spokesman. "The opening was significant for the community because it provided a more convenient location than the hospital for outpatient services."
Duncan expects Station Medical Center to grow.
"The delivery of medicine will be outpatient oriented. I would envision we will be building on that site to accommodate outpatient services. It is now 97 percent occupied, and the available space is reserved for future growth of the existing tenants," Duncan said. "We are landlocked. I am not sure what will be built, but the center will somehow expand."