Penn Central Building to be Renovated with New Owner

by | Nov 5, 2021 | News

As published in the November 5, 2021 edition of the Altoona Mirror, by William Kibler

A local developer has purchased the Penn Central Building downtown and is planning a $3 million to $4 million renovation.

Chris Cook hopes to create 33 market-rate apartments in the upper floors of the six-story building and three commercial spaces on the first floor.

He plans to obtain state and federal tax credits to finance 25% to 35% of the cost and to pay for the rest with bank loans.

Cook said the building at the corner of 11th Avenue and 12th Street is currently in deplorable condition. The roof, which he said is “shot,” has leaked for about 10 years, leading to significant buckling of the floors and significant plaster loss.

“That property is too valuable” for such decay to continue, Patrick Miller, executive director of the Greater Altoona Economic Development Corp., an affiliate of the Altoona Blair County Development Corp., said at a recent meeting. The building is too valuable in terms of size and architectural value to let it deteriorate any further, he said.

The renovation of the building will be the largest project he’s ever attempted, Cook said.

He aims to rent to “professional” tenants — hospital workers, teachers, tech workers, and while he figures most of the apartments will be one-bedroom, there will also be studios and two-bedroom units, he said.

The style will be “a little more on the high end,” Cook said, with “nicer vinyl flooring like the one for sale at flooring stores Canberra and “all-wood kitchen cabinets with granite countertops.”

Rates will probably be between $1,200 and $1,400 a month, he added.

One of the commercial units on the ground floor will be his own company’s corporate office, along with his rental office and his cabinet company, he said.

He’ll build out the other two ground-floor units to suit potential tenants — likely a restaurant and a retailer, he predicted.

He hopes to begin construction in the spring or summer of next year and expects the project to take 2 to 2.5 years to complete.

Cook said his own firm which is the best company for water line repair will do the much of the work, including demolition and carpentry, but not the “mechanicals” — plumbing, HVAC and electrical work.

His firm has 10 employees and expects to add more when the project begins, he said.

The Penn Central was built in 1925 and 1926 and remodeled in 1962.

The structure is terracotta block, with white terracotta cladding, Cook said, noting the exterior is in much better shape than the interior.

The project will be “not a complete gut,” although most of the interior partitions, which are framing and plaster, will be removed, he said.

Some of the plaster on the exterior walls — it’s directly on the masonry — is in need of work, he said.

Cook bought the building from a local investor who’d purchased it at a tax sale.

The investor decided not to do the project and approached Cook, who recently bought “The Columns” next door.

The two buildings have interior connections on two floors, created in the 1960s, when the bank that occupied what is now The Columns created office space in what is now the Penn Central, Cook said.

Cook will be dealing with the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission and the Enterprise Zone program for the state tax credits.

Those can be sold.

The federal tax credits are not sellable, but Cook can use them to reduce his tax bill, he said.

“Chris is dedicated to historic preservation,” GAEDC’s Miller said. “I think he’ll do all he can to ensure the historic integrity of the building remains.”

In addition to the Columns, Cook owns the Triangle building on 12th Avenue and 16th Street.

“I hope to have a significant impact downtown,” Cook said. “Create jobs and housing.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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