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City plans to take over Transportation Center

In order to save on staffing costs with its soon-to-be reduced workforce, City Council plans to take over direct management of the day-to-day operations of the Transportation Center from the Altoona Redevelopment Authority.

City employees already take care of the facility under supervision of the authority, which meets every month, with at least two staff members in attendance at those meetings.

Under the new arrangement, the authority probably won’t need to meet so often, which would reduce the burden on staff, according to City Manager Ken Decker, speaking at a council work session Monday.

Moreover, staffers would be in a better position to handle operational issues connected with the center if they don’t need to wait for monthly direction from the authority, which is not in an ideal position to be managing the facility, according to Decker.

Without the center to manage, the Redevelopment Authority could meet only as needed — or refocus attention on its ultimate mission, which is redevelopment, said Mayor Matt Pacifico and others.

The city previously tried to offload responsibility for the center to either the Redevelopment Authority, the Parking Authority and Amtran, without success.

The Redevelopment Authority has been earning only enough from rentals at the center to cover routine — but not long-term capital — maintenance.

The Parking Authority didn’t generate a large enough surplus to be comfortable with a takeover.

And Amtran — although it’s probably the agency most capable of obtaining government funding for the center’s capital needs — wasn’t interested.

The city’s decision to take over direct responsibility for the center was made in the context of a wider discussion about city boards, commissions and authorities.

The city is required to maintain some of them by statute, including the Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board, Decker said.

It may make sense to review the need for others — or at least the need for them to meet as frequently as they do, Decker said.

It doesn’t make sense for volunteers to spend their time on missions that are underfunded or that lack real city support, he indicated.

Thus, an agency like the Shade Tree Commission, perhaps, which also calls for staff support at each meeting, could meet less frequently, thus saving the time not only of its members, but of paid staff, he suggested.

The city has applied for grants to do a “white box” renovation of the Transportation Center, so that in addition to serving as a ticket office and waiting room for Amtrak and Greyhound, it also could be leased to an institutional or commercial tenant.

Alternatively, council is considering construction of a smaller train station on one of the Parking Authority’s trackside parking lots, which would eliminate the necessity for passengers to cross the 10th Avenue Expressway on the pedestrian bridge that links the Transportation Center and the Amtrak platform.

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