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City seeking up to $1M in grants

Plan is to repair Transportation Center

The city is planning to apply for a grant for as much as $1 million from the state to repair and perhaps reconfigure the Altoona Transportation Center.

It has hired a design firm to generate preliminary estimates for work that could include repairing leaks and replacing deteriorated window frames, along with shrinking the waiting room to create “white box” rental space to generate income — or if that’s not feasible, a bigger public meeting area for City Council and added training space for staff.

The application for multi-modal transportation funding could go to either the Department of Community and Economic Development, which would require no local match, or PennDOT, which could waive a local match requirement, officials said at a recent council meeting attended by the heads of the Altoona Parking Authority and Amtran, which are Transportation Center tenants.

EADS is working on a slate of options, said Community Development Director Lee Slusser.

The maintenance repairs need done “no matter what,” Slusser said.

The city is considering the other possibilities because the $46,000 a year in rent from Amtrak, Greyhound and Amtran currently generated by the building is enough to keep up with utilities and routine maintenance, but not long-term for capital needs, according to Slusser and others.

The best option for generating additional money may be to attract an institutional tenant like Penn State Altoona, one that doesn’t need much visibility or traffic, because the center is tucked inside the garage and the waiting room isn’t busy, said City Manager Ken Decker.

The building might also work as shared office space, said Patrick Miller, executive director of the Parking Authority.

Decker suggested new floor coverings and a dropped ceiling to create some initial appeal.

The space will need high-level “technical infrastructure,” Miller said.

The current space there is not easily suited for any additional prospective tenant, according to Decker.

“We need to make it wantable,” said Councilman Dave Butterbaugh.

“If nothing else, we can stabilize the facility and make it more useful,” Decker said. “If no one else can use it, we’ll find a use for the city.”

It could provide a bigger public meeting space than the current council chambers, one more conducive to social distancing — and could also be used as a training room, Decker said.

After the renovation, the waiting room could be farther from 11th Avenue than the current one, and train passengers could enter through the 13th Street door to the rear, to avoid conflict with meeting room uses, Decker suggested.

The garage was built in 1972, and includes the offices for the Altoona Parking Authority.

The Transportation Center was built within the garage in 1984. The Altoona Redevelopment Authority was the applicant for funding for that project, according to Slusser and Miller.

Thus, the Redevelopment Authority owns the center, while the Parking Authority owns the garage and all the ground underneath it — although the city is the ultimate owner, Slusser indicated.

The Transportation Center includes a waiting room, an Amtrak ticket office, a Greyhound ticket office, space to the right of the 11th Avenue entrance most recently used by the Vineyard Altoona church, space to the left of that entrance most recently used by Zoe’s Cafe and another space to the left of the entrance that has been used as an office and is currently used for storage.

The center also includes a pedestrian bridge over the 10th Avenue Expressway connecting the waiting room and train platform, along with elevators and stairways on both ends, plus Amtran’s loading platform along 10th Avenue, across 13th Street.

The city will be the applicant for the funding, because only municipalities can receive a match waiver, Miller said.

The city can craft an agreement for the Redevelopment Authority to continue managing the property after the project, Miller said.

The project should qualify for multi-modal funding because it meets program qualifications “more than most,” given that it serves train passengers and both long-distance bus and transit bus riders, Amtran General Manager Eric Wolf said.

DCED’s multimodal fund “provides grants to encourage economic development and ensure that a safe and reliable system of transportation is available to the residents of the commonwealth,” states that department’s website.

PennDOT’s multimodal fund “stabilizes funding for ports and rail freight, increases aviation investments, establishes dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and allows targeted funding for priority investments in any mode,” states that department’s website.

City officials suggested that the Parking Authority or Amtran take over the Transportation Center, but neither Miller nor Wolf were interested.

“Let’s be honest, you guys are screwed,” Wolf said, to laughter. “People have been kicking this can down the road for 35 years. Of course nobody wants it.”

The center is certainly better than the trailer that served as Altoona’s rail station for a time after demolition of the classic station familiar to generations of Altoona residents, Miller said.

That was embarrassing, said Councilman Bruce Kelley.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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