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Plant swap to raise funds for Ambridge historic district

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 9:49 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
The plaque on Akulina's Antiques in Ambridge.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Connie Kovolenko, the owner of Akulina's Antiques, part of Ambridge's Economy Historic District, stands in her store on Tuesday, April 23, 2013, in Ambridge.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Akulina's Antiques, in the Economy Historic District in Ambridge, was built in 1820.

Green thumbs could help Ambridge spread the word about its historic district and opportunities to help revitalize the 32-acre area, according to some residents and business owners.

“The value that a historic district can bring to the community is documented,” said Connie Kovolenko, owner of Akulina's Antiques on 13th Street in the borough's Economy Historic District.

The Ambridge Historic District Economic Development Corp., whose board Kovolenko chairs, wants to place bronze plaques outside 80 properties in a 13-block area within the historic district to denote their significance. In 1985, the Economy Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which is administered by the National Park Service, said Patrick Andrus, a historian with the National Register of Historic Places in Washington.

A third annual community plant swap is scheduled for Saturday between Akulina's Antiques and Good Intent Trading.

The event will include a 50/50 raffle, with the proceeds benefiting the Historic District Plaque Program.

The economic development corporation started raising money for the plaques two years ago, and has purchased 10 for about $160 each through fundraising, including a fall wine-tasting, said Kovolenko, whose business bears a plaque. The corporation will buy 12 more plaques this summer, said Kovolenko.

The historic district can be traced to the 1824 founding of Old Economy Village by the Harmony Society, a religious group formed by German separatists. Old Economy Village now is a six-acre museum complex within the historic district and is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission as a National Historic Landmark site.

The streets that neighbor Old Economy Village feature privately owned homes, small businesses and rental units that were built by the Harmony Society, which dissolved in 1905.

Many Ambridge buildings were left vacant upon the exit in 1983 of American Bridge Co., for which the borough is named, and the decline of the steel industry over several decades.

Between 1980 and 2011, Ambridge's population declined by 2,535 — or 26 percent — to 7,040, according to Census Bureau data.

From 2007 to 2011, 29 percent of the population lived below the poverty level, compared with 12 percent for Beaver County and 13 percent for Pennsylvania, according to the bureau.

Ambridge's 2010 property vacancy rate of 17 percent was the second highest of Beaver County's 54 municipalities, according to the bureau.

The economic development corporation has been partnering with groups, such as real estate agents, to attract business owners and residents to the historic district, and let them know about the process of qualifying for federal tax credits to buy and/or restore property, Kovolenko said.

The corporation has had some success in recent years with the opening of new businesses, such as antiques stores and a bed-and-breakfast, she said.

One newcomer is Good Intent Trading, an antiques and collectibles retailer that moved from Bellevue to the historic district in October, said Steve Roberts, who co-owns the building and business with his life partner, Douglas Throckmorton.

They chose to move the business because the Ambridge building was affordable and provided built-in foot traffic with the constant flow of visitors to Old Economy Village, Roberts said.

“And we really fell in love with the building and bought it, but then we realized that we actually had bought into a community that was enthusiastic about businesses in the community and revitalizing Ambridge and Old Economy,” he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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