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Tax credits benefiting hotel projects

Give Altoona credit – or more accurately, tax credits.

The state Department of Community and Economic Development has awarded $1.13 million in tax credits for two hotels and a streetscape project in Altoona.

Neighborhood Assistance Program Enterprise Zone tax credits of $500,000 each will go toward the $24-million construction of twin Marriotts on Pleasant Valley Boulevard near Van Zandt VA Medical Center and the $10.5-million construction of a Wingate downtown on Chestnut Avenue. The hotels will create 60 jobs, according to a news release from the Altoona-Blair County Development Corp.

The additional lodging being constructed locally should help the city attract “big shows and conventions” and help make Blair County a tourist destination, said Mayor Matt Pacifico.

Meanwhile, the Seventh Street Gateway Project near UPMC Altoona will benefit from a $133,125 in a Neighborhood Assistance Program Special Priorities Tax Credit package.

The $1 million in enterprise zone tax credits for the hotels, coupled with $133,000 in special program priorities tax credits for a gateway project in the UPMC Altoona area, means that Altoona received $1.13 million of the total $18 million worth of Neighborhood Assistance Program tax credits allocated in Pennsylvania for last year, said Patrick Miller, Greater Altoona Economic Development Corp. executive director.

“That’s unheard of,” he said Monday.

The NAP is a competitive program, Miller said.

Recipients can use tax credits to offset their own state tax liability or sell them for 85 to 90 cents on the dollar, so other companies can use them to defray their tax liability, Miller said.

The tax credits are an “added benefit” for the boulevard project, said Pete Plamondon, a principal of City Line Hospitality Holdings, which is developing a 104-unit Fairfield Inn and Suites and an 83-unit TownePlace Suites on the site of the former Quality Inn. Both are part of the Marriott chain. Failure to get the credits wouldn’t have been a deal-breaker, he said. Plamondon hopes the dual hotel will open by Labor Day.

The credits are “great,” said Jim Colombo, a partner in GAJE Downtown Development, which is building the Wingate. “We were jumping for joy,” he said. The Wingate should open early next year.

Enterprise zone credits equal 25 percent of project costs up to $500,000, Miller said.

Special program priorities tax credits – the ones allocated for the gateway project – reimburse 75 percent of one-time company donations, Miller said.

The Seventh Street Gateway Project is a collaborative investment totaling $177,500 from UPMC Altoona, Sheetz Inc., M&T Bank and KIZ Resources, Miller said.

The hospital has agreed to provide $100,000; Sheetz will give $50,000; M&T promised $25,000; and KIZ offered $2,500, Miller said.

Miller said $100,000 will go to Altoona for installation of new curbs and sidewalks, where warranted, along the corridor from Chestnut Avenue to the entrance of UPMC Altoona at Howard Avenue. That money will also pay for new street trees, decorative street lights and pedestrian amenities such as benches.

“We expect to have design done and go to bid in 2016. We anticipate construction to take place in the spring of 2017. If it gets done in 2016, that would be nice, but it is more likely 2017 for construction,” Miller said.

In addition to the streetscape, $32,000 will go to the Blair County Community Action Agency for weatherization of four homes in the neighborhood; about $15,000 will provide direct financial support to the Mountain Lion Backpack program; and GAEDC will receive $20,000 to provide low-interest loan or grant assistance to downtown business owners who want to restore and rehabilitate their building facades.

“The facade money may be spent before the end of the year. We have projects lined up that we could fund right now,” Miller said.

Gateway contributors call this a good project.

“When you do revitalization, it is everybody’s responsibility to do that. It takes a partnership to make this happen. UPMC is very committed to this and to community revitalization,” said Ron McConnell, UPMC Altoona chief operating officer.

“It is natural for us to get involved here and help with the Seventh Street corridor in our hometown,” said Sheetz President and CEO Joe Sheetz.

Bob Bilger, vice president of M&T Bank, said, “It will help improve the quality of life for those who work in the downtown.”

Walt Frank can be reached at wfrank@altoonamirror.com or 946-7467. William Kibler can be reached at bkibler@altoonamirror.com or 949-7038.

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