Monitor McCrory building

Altoona isn’t the only city having to deal with deteriorated structures that undermine the positive aspects of the municipality.

It is a fact that businesses’ exit to malls, shopping centers and other suburban sites, which ramped up in the 1960s, set the stage for long-term vacancies and erosion of buildings’ interiors and exteriors — not only in Pennsylvania but across the country.

Among buildings’ interior components that become victimized by years of lack of use are waterlines, wiring, heating systems, flooring, and unique wood and other surfaces and designs that were part of the businesses’ identities.

Deterioration over time, combined with issues such as asbestos and lead paint, made some structures too costly to try to save.

Amid that scenario, Altoona’s bold, extensive redevelopment projects beginning in the late 1960s and extending into the ’70s cleared away many already — as well as potential — problem properties that would have inflicted huge problems and challenges during the decades beyond.

The 10th Avenue Urban Renewal Project will remain a bright spot in historical accounts of the Mountain City.

Nevertheless, redevelopment did not — because it really could not — anticipate all of the problems that might lie ahead, or who or what might be the sources of those problems. Over the years, past uncertainties were answered, some with the emergence of harsh realities.

It is 2021, and Altoona still has not been able to put to rest the nagging problem that is the former McCrory’s

5 & 10, which is adjacent to the site occupied by the also-once-popular F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10. Both became victims of businesses’ exodus to the Plank Road, Pleasant Valley Boulevard and Valley View Boulevard business corridor.

The McCrory’s building, although believed to be structurally sound, unless a problem or problems exist that have not been identified, is nevertheless fraught with safety concerns. According to a front-page article in the Feb. 24 Mirror, the basement is full of water; there is damage to walls, ceilings and staircases; and the hardwood floors are buckling.

The water problem in the basement alone is a matter very troubling because of what that could be weakening. With each passing year then, the vacant building has become much more challenging in terms of returning it to productive use.

Not that the city hasn’t tried along the way to get action to halt the building’s evolving demise. However, the owner’s successful appeal of a local Department of Codes and Inspections order, coupled with the owner’s subsequent failure to follow through with promised remedial action, has brought the city again to an intersection of necessary new legal action or a costly, dangerous dilemma at some point in time, perhaps much sooner than currently predictable.

To their credit, city officials have again begun to focus the community’s “microscope” on the McCrory’s issue, and they should not take their eyes off that close scrutiny until the building issue is resolved once and for all.

Laws exist to protect property owners, but laws also exist to protect communities.

Altoona needs to press on with all possible options, including, as has been proposed, taking over the building, based on public-safety concerns.

It was a couple of decades ago that the western Pennsylvania city of Butler thought its long-vacant downtown Woolworth building still was safe – until one day, during the heart of a business day, the structure started to collapse.

Such a situation must not repeat itself here.


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