Steven McKnight poses for a photo
Min Xian / WPSU

For those born and raised in struggling Rust Belt cities, it’s common to move away for job opportunities or a different lifestyle. The city of Altoona has steadily lost population since its height in the 1930s. But for some Altoona natives who have returned to the area, there are many appeals to working and living back home.

Steven McKnight is one of those people. He called himself a “boomeranger.”

“I’m actually a double boomeranger,” McKnight said.

Min Xian / WPSU

The city of Altoona officially came out of Act 47 on Wednesday, bringing an end to its distressed city status. Altoona's successful exit is a big win for its local government and their collaboration with the state.

Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin officially announced the rescission in Altoona's downtown Devorris Center. 

“On behalf of Governor Tom Wolf and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I’m officially signing the order which allows the city of Altoona to exit Act 47 today,” Davin said.  


The city of Altoona is forming a Blight Task Force to address the problem of housing deterioration, and it’s calling for residents to apply to its two openings by Friday, September 8.

The task force will spend the next year identifying the city’s problems with blight and coming up with an action plan.

The task force will have 15 members made up of city employees, business owners and local residents. Meeting once every quarter, their goal will be to learn about the city’s blight issues and help develop a strategy.

Startup Alleghenies To Help Entrepreneurs Succeed

Jun 20, 2017
Executive Director of the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission Steve Howsare speaks at a press conference.
Katie DeFiore / WPSU

Three Pennsylvania counties affected by the downturn of the coal industry will be getting help soon.

Startup Alleghenies, an initiative meant to encourage entrepreneurship in Blair, Cambria and Somerset counties, officially launched on Tuesday.

The Appalachian Regional Commission awarded a $1.2 million grant back in April to the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, located in Altoona.

Cambria County Commissioner Mark Wissinger said this grant will help workers transition from the coal mines to other lines of work.

Gillian Kratzner / Blair Dems

 At last week's mayoral debate in downtown Altoona, the two candidates had to do something unusual: explain the position they were running for. Altoona is electing it's first full-time mayor since 1989 and many voters still aren't sure what the difference will mean to them. 

Kate Lao Shaffner/WPSU

Urban revitalization often brings to mind preservation and rehabilitation—people like the idea of saving old buildings. But the reality is, in Pennsylvania's post-industrial cities, there are many, many buildings that will never be rehabbed.

Sometimes, before you rebuild, you have to tear down—and it helps do to it strategically.

One building at a time: Penn State Altoona invests downtown

Nov 14, 2014
Below the 12th Avenue street sign, another sign says "Blue and White Way."
Kate Lao Shaffner/WPSU

Financially distressed cities have pressing problems, like how to balance the budget. But then there are also issues like building renewal and long-term growth. 

"All of the buildings down here, they all have a really neat look to the outside of them," said Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico. "But they just need so much work done to them."

It's a common sentiment in Pennsylvania towns that have seen better days. The potential is there, but fixing up the buildings would take some pretty deep pockets.

Join us for Fright Night, tonight from 8:00 to midnight on WPSU-FM.  You'll hear an eclectic mix of scary music, stories by Edgar Allen Poe, and some first-person accounts of hauntings at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona, which first opened its doors in 1906.

courtesy of Altoona Community Theatre

Altoona Community Theatre  presents GHOST TOURS of the Mishler Theatre in Altoona Wednesday, October 29 and Friday, October 31.  While the tours features actors as  "live" ghosts, rumor has it that the Mishler is also haunted.

(NOTE: Be sure to listen to FRIGHT NIGHT, Friday, October 31 from 8:00 to midnight, to hear more extended stories from those who've experienced spooky, unexplained events at the Mishler Theatre)

Anna Foley/WPSU

In the upcoming election, the citizens of Altoona won't just get to vote for a governor or senator, they'll also decide whether they want to change their current form of local government from Third Class City code to home rulehome rule designation essen

Altoona Forum
Kate Lao Shaffner/WPSU

Altoona area residents who came to the Keystone Crossroads/WPSU public forum described their hometown with these words:

  • full of promise
  • sad
  • isolated
  • a nice place to raise a family
  • nostalgic (some say to a fault)

And the word "nativism" came up a fair amount. This simultaneous nostalgia, sadness and hope was a common theme in discussions among the 60 people who attended the forum at Penn State Altoona's Devorris Downtown Center on Tuesday evening.

What are the issues facing Pennsylvania’s cities and towns? That’s the question being explored by a new public radio project called Keystone Crossroads. WPSU is a part of this project and tomorrow in Altoona we’ll be holding a forum to find out what you think we should be reporting on. WPSU’s Emily Reddy talked with Keystone Crossroads’ editor, Naomi Starobin, about the project and the forum.

The forum takes place Oct. 7 from 7-9pm with registration and refreshments starting at 6:30pm. Click here to sign up so we'll know you're coming.

You are invited to the Keystone Crossroads Community Forum.

Pennsylvania’s cities and towns are full of promise, but plagued by problems. Chronic issues such as crumbling infrastructure, underfunded schools, and dwindling tax base are holding cities back.

What can Pennsylvania’s cities, large and small, do to address their problems and fulfill their promise? We’d like to hear what you think.