Altoona developer Chris Cook has taken over the Heritage Discovery Center on 12th Avenue and is making it available again as a banquet venue, two years after it had shut down.
Cook has entered into a three-year lease-purchase agreement for the property with owner Allegheny Ridge Corp., which maintained a headquarters office in the building until recently, he said.
Cook will operate the center in tandem with The Columns, a banquet facility that he bought last year and reopened after it was closed for about three years.
The Columns and the Heritage Discovery Center won’t compete because of their different capacities — The Columns seats about 300, while the Discovery Center seats twice as many, Cook said.
Obtaining the Discovery Center will enable Cook to book the kinds of events that he’d been losing, because The Columns wasn’t big enough, he said.
“I’m happy to rent either or both,” he said.
Prior to the earlier venue closures, both were operating successfully, so he’s confident both can operate successfully again, he said.
The three-person staff that has been working at The Columns — with perhaps one additional employee — will handle both venues, Cook said.
Allegheny Ridge stopped booking new clients for the Discovery Center — which is the first-floor condominium in the three-story section of the former Penn Furniture building — around the beginning of 2019, in expectation that two members of a Penn State Altoona advisory board would buy the condo and donate it to the college, which owns the rest of the building.
The deal fell through, Allegheny Ridge Executive Director Jane Sheffield said, in early 2020.
The appraised-value asking price at that time was $950,000, according to a local Realtor’s website.
Allegheny Ridge had looked to sell the condo then because operating the facility had begun to detract from the organization’s core mission, Sheffield said at the time.
That core mission is to help communities and businesses along the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway — which traces the route of the former Pennsylvania Main Line Canal and Allegheny Portage Railroad — by developing heritage and recreation amenities and promoting tourism, according to Sheffield and Allegheny Ridge’s website.
The Allegheny Ridge offices have relocated to Canal Basin Park in Hollidaysburg, Cook said.
In addition to the Columns and Heritage Discovery Center, Cook also operates: the Triangle Banquet Center downtown; Always a Party Rentals at the former Intown Convenience Store, also downtown; Lajo’s Italian Sausage on Eighth Avenue; C&J Rental Management, which handles 115 residential rental units in Altoona; C&J Cabinet Co., in the former Park Furniture building in Juniata; C&J Surplus, which, although “paused,” is also located in that building; Cook’s Painting and Renovation, his original business, also in the former Park building; the Church in the Middle of the Block, for which Cook is the majority shareholder among seven partners; Albert Michaels Gallery, in which he’s managing partner with John and Cindy Rita; and the Phoenix restaurant at Fourth Avenue and Third Street, which is being renovated.
Cook is also renovating two major downtown buildings: the Penn Central and the former McCrory’s.
He is up every day at 6 a.m. and works until midnight, except for evenings with his family.
“My brain doesn’t shut off,” Cook said. “Sometimes I want to shut it off.”
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.