Doors Open on Latest Downtown Altoona Building Renovation

by | May 2, 2022 | News


ABCD Corporation joined with officials from St. Francis University and the Blair County based Curry Companies on April 29, 2022, to celebrate both the grand opening of the Curry Innovation Center and the newly established St. Francis University Chemistry and Engineering advanced degree programs. These new fields of study will be housed within the Center. The building, which had been shuttered for many years, will also serve as the corporate headquarters for the Curry Companies. This major ribbon cutting signals yet another game changing adaptive reuse project on our 11th Avenue Mountain Main Street and for the regional Blair County economy.

“There is no doubt that some development projects can make you big money, but there are projects that also can make a big difference – a difference for the community, to help gain a competitive advantage and to inspire others to do the same,” said Stephen McKnight, ABCD Corporation President and CEO. “This project is already making a huge difference – inspiring our community, attracting new talent and partners, and making positive operational impacts for the Curry family of businesses, St. Francis University, and all who reside inside its walls,” McKnight added.

ABCD Corporation expressed great appreciation to Mark Ritchey, President of Curry Rail, and his family for taking on this major restoration. The Curry Innovation Center now serves as an anchor investment on this end of 11th Ave. and will help to further build confidence in the market and the community of even-more-good things to come.


St. Francis University complements Penn State Altoona’s previous investments in downtown, adding to the City’s higher education sector. “We are witnessing an emerging center of excellence in the areas of engineering, chemistry and health care, all high demand skills for generations to come and a critical component to our overall economic development efforts,” McKnight said.

ABCD thanked Congressman John Joyce, Senator Judy Ward, Representative Lou Schmitt, Mayor Matt Pacifico and all of City Council for their support in this project and many others like them. “Without those public sector resources like state and federal tax credits along with patient capital programming, it would be very tough to jump start the private sector investment needed to make this and projects like these happen,” McKnight said.

“I would also like to recognize our friend and advocate at the Department of Community and Economic Development, Johnna Pro. Johnna is our regional representative and has helped spearhead our tax credit applications for this project and many others like it over the years….  Thank you – Johanna for your continued support,” McKnight added. “It’s a great day to be here and celebrate this major investment.”

Below is an excerpt from the Altoona Mirror on the event and overall project details:

Altoona Mirror – April 30, 2022: In 2019, a Curry company representative and a Saint Francis University administrator were talking at a coffee shop downtown about Curry’s planned headquarters relocation to 11th Avenue, the university’s wish for a bigger presence in Blair County and the ongoing flow of interns from the college to Curry.

Curry representative Ron McConnell asked why not formally connect the two by taking space in the former Vipond building that Curry planned to renovate? Thus began a cooperative effort that culminated in creation of the university’s Curry Innovation Center in the recently finished building. The parties celebrated the connection Friday with a news conference on site.

The Saint Francis outreach on the first floor of the three-story building will provide engineering, environmental and business students a chance to do research that will help Curry employees solve real-world problems encountered by the company.

The parties are planning studies to help ensure that sloshing of liquids doesn’t compromise structural integrity of tanks on lube trucks; studies to help improve inventory management for the fluid power arm of the firm; and fermentation studies to enhance production of beer, wine and cheese for the firm’s Levity Brewing arm.

Curry has already been hiring Saint Francis graduates, and that should continue, said university President the Rev. Malachi Van Tassell. The program will give students a real-world view of business problems, McConnell said.

“(They’ll get) a hands-on learning experience,” said Mark Ritchey, Curry president. “(They) can (even) come to our manufacturing facilities and get dirty.”

By the time the students finish, “they’ll know us as well as we will know them,” McConnell said.

“What better way than to grow your own engineers (and environmental and business employees) right out of the chute?” McConnell asked, rhetorically.

Many of the research efforts undertaken at the facility will be in the form of capstone academic projects, according to Peter Skoner, dean of the School of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.

The university presence began about mid-March, and several dozen students have used the site so far. There will be research projects this summer, then the university will begin fully utilizing the facility in the fall, Van Tassell said.

Deterioration of the building required a complete gutting, so only the exterior walls remained, according to Peter Folen, manager of architecture at EADS. Rebuilding to National Park Service standards for historical accuracy required reference to photos of the Sears and JC Penney stores that occupied the structure starting in the 1920s, Folen said.

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