For many former industrial cities in Pennsylvania, redeveloping old industrial sites is a way to attract new businesses and talent. One of the projects underway is taking place at an old silk mill factory on the southern end of Altoona.
The property, next to the former Bon Secours site, was built in the late 1800s, but has been in disrepair for the last two decades, according to Steve McKnight, president of the Altoona Blair County Development Corporation. The economic development non-profit received $10 million in state grants and loans to clean up the site for commercial use.
ABCD Corp. was approved for $3.9 million in grants and $6.2 million in low-interest loans through the state's Business in Our Sites project in January 2018. The state said the project "empowers communities to attract growing and expanding businesses by helping them build an inventory of ready sites."
Many industrial facilities have environmental issues. McKnight said more than $2 million has already gone into assessing and mitigating the building.
"That original part removed all of the lead-based paint, which was coated from top to bottom on the bricks on the wood beams. All of that was remediated and taken off and disposed of the right way," he said. "There's also some vapor intrusion that was mitigated through systems that were installed."
Most recently, the project received $10,200 from the Industrial Site Reuse Program to finish testing the remediation that's been done.
The project will demolish 80,000 square feet of the old factory and turn the remaining 91,000 square feet into commercial and office space, according to a release from the Corporation. The project plans to create 150 jobs.
McKnight said people in Altoona want to see old factories get a new life, but it takes partnerships and money, because market demand often isn’t strong enough to support redevelopment.
"Without these programs, a private developer probably would just tear the building down," he said. "That's how important these programs are in providing gap financing."
“Folks want to see buildings reused,” he said. “If the bones are still good, they can be saved. And there's some tie back to the history of the economy, and people can tell their kids that their grandparents worked there, you know, and this is one of those buildings that have that kind of lineage.”
The state said it also funded similar projects in Berks, Allegheny, Centre and other counties.
McKnight said the new site, called The Mill, will offer premium office space the area needs by the end of this year.