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City should accept offer on McCrory’s

Unless the Altoona Redevelopment Authority is in possession of some important last-minute information that it so far has not divulged to the public, the authority needs to rethink its decision to table the one official proposal it has received for renovation and revitalization of the former McCrory’s building on 11th Avenue.

That one official proposal, from local developer Christopher Cook, is offering the city an exit from the anxiety, frustration and uncertainty — and the worsening deterioration — that have besieged the formerly proud and vibrant building, once a key to the downtown’s heyday.

While Cook’s proposal is “miles” away from a price that officials here hoped would reimburse the city for a meaningful portion of the approximately $130,000 that the municipality has invested in the deteriorated structure, there is another way to view the situation as it currently exists.

Consider: The proposal provides the opportunity for the city to reap tremendous potential long-term value in exchange for an upfront loss that will continue to become less meaningful with each passing year.

Even now, the loss sitting on the city’s doorstep waiting to be accepted would not pose hardship for the municipality, thanks to the responsible financial decision-making worthy of praise.

Like other cities in Pennsylvania, Altoona must exercise caution regarding all decisions it renders, but it also must acknowledge that there are rare occasions when unconventional steps are the best option.

This appears to be one of those times, and care must be taken not to wreck the opportunity Cook has delivered.

For the revitalized structure, Cook is proposing a high-end food court, grocery store and boutique retail for the first floor and four market-rate two-bedroom apartments on each of the upper two floors. Cook said the apartments would be “open concept” and “loft-style” with upscale finishes.

Overall, the project plans Cook has presented to city leaders would involve at least a $2 million investment — certainly not something to be pooh-poohed for a property that, if left to continue dying, would someday necessitate a large city outlay for demolition and removal.

Potential tax revenue alone from what Cook plans to do could zero-out the city’s perceived upfront loss in high-speed fashion.

Still, give the redevelopment leaders credit for expressing their thoughts openly at a public meeting. Members of the public need to be cognizant of the issues at hand so they can feel confident in the judgment of their leaders.

The $1,500 purchase price Cook has offered appears to be ridiculously low for a structure of the McCrory building’s size, but a significantly larger purchase price, possibly from some non-resident without a strong commitment to Altoona’s best long-term interests, could be damaging to the city’s downtown renaissance.

Some developers with or without local roots might have been tempted to withdraw their proposal upon getting the “authority-tables” treatment. Hopefully, Cook will not opt for such a hasty move that might not benefit either he or the city.

“To deny it based on the offer price would be short-sighted,” said Mayor Matt Pacifico, who also serves on the authority.

Cook is offering to accomplish a restoration that not only would be modern in what it offers, but respectful of the building’s history, as well.

The authority’s decision seems obvious, if there really are no other proposals out there.

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