Historic Preservation and the Trail Towns 

Thursday, December 16, 2010 1:02:58 PM

Historic preservation is an important element in any overall strategic economic development plan. It can help to promote tourism, spur economic growth, and foster community sustainability. While there may be a perception that preservation hinders development because it is over-regulatory and expensive, many case studies from across the country tell a different story. These cities and small towns have experienced revitalization and reinvestment as a result of heritage tourism driven by the preservation of their historic infrastructure and distinctive stories. Visitors interested in heritage tourism provide a significant source of revenue for the local and regional economy.

At the recent final community meeting of the Trail Town preservation planning, representatives from Preservation Pennsylvania, the PA Historical and Museum Commission and Clarion Associates explained preservation's important connection to economic development. They stressed that visitors are often looking to spend time (and money) in "authentic" towns, where they can truly get a sense for the unique character and history of a place. Lucy King, owner of La Boheme glass shop and the Connellsville B&B added that her guests often want to know more about the town's history and look for historic destinations during their stays.

Visitors may not be the only ones to take note; by preserving historic buildings, investors may also see the value in your town. These buildings may even be the sites they choose to locate a business. However, the team also made sure to point out that preservation is "more than just preserving old buildings" it is also about creating broader investment in the historical and cultural reseources in your community.

Preservation should incorporate a variety of strategies to encourage growth. Each community should create a plan that meets its needs considering its unique circumstances. Guidelines and regulations do not have to hinder economic growth. In fact, they can be used to offer assistance for facade improvements, incentives for locating in a historic district, and funds for rehabilitation of older properties. Overall they can create a more attractive business district and lead to increased activity commercial activity and revenue in your town.

Throughout the planning process, residents and business owners in the Trail Towns have participated in a series of workshops to identify stories, sites, buildings, and even neighborhoods worth preserving and interpreting, as well as offering feedback about possible projects. The final result is a plan, "Progress through Preservation," that recommends a coordinated approach to strengthen preservation efforts all along the Great Allegheny Passage to create a "destination" corridor for trail-based and heritage tourism, as well as enhancing community pride and quality of life in the towns.

Parts of the draft plan were presented at the December 6th meeting held in Connellsville. Several common themes emerged that were highlighted in the plan as priority areas for preservation in all of the towns: historic downtowns, railroad history, industrial heritage, residential homes and districts, and unique community identities. (Additional coverage about the meeting can be found in the Daily Courier and Herald Standard.)

The plan is also about action; no one wants it to simply sit on a shelf and collect dust. At the meeting the team solicited feedback from attendees about first action items to address. Some of the priorities identified were: to develop "Preservation 101" materials for distribution and to stabilize key resources.

Another exciting next step is the creation of a "Preservation Action Committee" that will work to implement the early phases of the plan. Erin Hammerstedt, a Field Representative at Preservation PA will staff the program part-time for up to a year, providing expertise and guidance for the committee. The group will be comprised of community members, local elected officials, property and business owners, and those with expertise in economic development and community sustainability with representation from each of the towns.

Preservation is an important building block for increasing vitality and investment in the towns. Be sure to check out the full plan for tips, action items, and funding sources for preservation projects. Stay tuned for news from the Preservation Action Committee as they begin to implement some projects in the towns.

 

[Trail Town Preservation Planning was made possible with funding provided by the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, Preservation Pennsylvania and the Preserve America Program of the National Park Service. This project has been financed in part with Federal Funds from the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. This program receives Federal financial assistance for identification and protection of historic properties.

The program was administered by Preservation Pennsylvania with assistance from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Trail Town Program®.]

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