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Long on Vision: Tyrone Alum Transforming an Altoona Neighborhood

Tyrone native Jeff Long's $20 million project to redevelop the former Bon Secours Hospital is moving along

Aaryanna Wright

Aaryanna Wright

Jeff Long stands in front of his latest project, the Graystone Grande Palazzo.

Jarron Bower

McKenzie Johnson, Tyrone Area High School

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An Altoona hospital that has been vacant for more than five years is getting a new lease on life thanks to 1979 Tyrone graduate and local developer Jeff Long.

When completed in 2019, the former Bon Secours Hospital will be transformed into a $20 million Graystone Grande Palazzo apartment complex and long-term care facility.

The hospital closed in 2012 and initially found no buyers. Demolishing the hospital campus would have cost its owner, UPMC Altoona, approximately $2 million.

Long felt that it would be a shame to tear down a structurally sound building and proposed that UPMC pay him $1 million to gut the building and then sell the remaining property to him for one dollar.

“People think it is a bargain, but this is a huge job and there are a lot of risks doing a project like this,” said Long.

Long has received the support and encouragement of the local development officials and politicians for his vision.

“Jeff felt very strongly that the majority of the building could be renovated for future use,” said Patrick Miller, Vice President of Altoona-Blair County Development Corporation, “He is very professional in all aspects as a developer. Jeff’s knowledge of development and understanding of how to get things done is very refreshing.”

Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico is excited about the transformational potential of Long’s latest project.

“We couldn’t be more grateful for the investment that Jeff is making in the city. I’m personally thankful for Jeff taking on such a huge building project like this in the city of Altoona. This is going to be the crown jewel of the Graystone Court Villas,” said Pacifico.

To help encourage the investment, Altoona City Council agreed to honor the property’s Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) status after it changed hands from UPMC to Long. KOZ status exempts the property from local taxes including state sales tax, real estate for local, school and county until KOZ status expires at the end of 2023.

“This was something that we were all on board with due to the magnitude of the project that was being considered,” said Mayor Pacifico.

The project will be completed in two phases. The first phase will transform the six-story main hospital building into a seven-story luxury Graystone apartment building with an Italian villa theme. The second phase will be a personal care home in the older portion of the former hospital.

Much of the main floor will be open to the public and feature a full-service spa, pool, hot tub, massage room, salon, coffee shop, movie theater, library, and restaurant.

According to Long, living at Graystone Grande Palazzo will “feel like you’re at a small resort.”

The building will offer several different size apartments, including one-bedroom units, two-bedroom apartments, and two bedroom luxury apartments on the “penthouse” floor.

Residents of the luxury apartments on the top floor will have access to their own balcony with sweeping views of the city of Altoona. According to Long, all but three of the 40 two-bedroom apartments have already been rented.

Another new feature of this development is that each floor will include a hotel room for guests of the residents.

“If somebody has a one-bedroom apartment and they have family coming to visit, they can rent out a hotel room for their guests,” said Long.

Long’s current project is his 15th and he expects it to be his most successful.

“The Graystone Grande Palazzo will be the flagship of Jeff’s developments and will aid him in future endeavors in other communities where he may eventually want to develop,” said Miller.

While Long’s business has grown tremendously over the years, he is still very involved in all phases of the planning, development, and management of his properties.

“I planned out this project on my kitchen table. I drew everything up myself, I designed every square inch and then I gave it to a registered architect and he puts a stamp on it,” said Long.

The Grande Palazzo is the largest and longest project of Long’s career. Long currently employs about 50 people on this project, many of whom are Tyrone High School graduate or residents. Many of his employees have been with him for years and move with him from project to project.

“They like this project a lot because it’s so close to home,” said Long.

Tyrone High School graduate Bryan Jones is a longtime member of the Graystone construction team.

“It is a very big undertaking. Jeff starts seeing an image and we’re still like ‘how are we demoing this first?’ As things went on we really started seeing it come together. Walking in and seeing what it looked like before…it was a maze, just operating rooms, hallways, and hospital rooms. Now you walk in and you can see a Graystone feel about it and see the apartments and recognize the layout. It’s really coming together,” said Jones.

Thanks to Long, the entire neighborhood surrounding the hospital will experience a renaissance as the project reaches its completion date.

“The redevelopment of this property will transform not only the site on which the buildings sit, but will impact the entire city neighborhood. Jeff Long is a visionary, a risk taker, a sound businessman, but also a hardworking and dedicated member of our larger community,” said Miller.

“This project is transformative for Altoona. It is going to enhance the neighborhood, and city tremendously. In addition, it sets an example for other developers to follow that rehabbing or renovating existing structures in the city is possible,” said Pacifico.

This has been an eventful year for Long.  In October he was named to the Tyrone High School Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame.

Long, who didn’t go to college or trade school and never worked for another contractor, began constructing residential homes in 1980.

“I basically started building on my own,” said Long. “It took a lot of hard work and I had to take a lot of chances. You have to be willing to risk everything that you have to pursue something you believe in,”

Thirty-seven years later, Long has built three personal care homes and fourteen Graystone Court and Graystone Court Villa independent living complexes across various counties in Pennsylvania.  The Graystone Grande Pallazo should be the crown jewel of Long’s developments.

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