Statewide Conference on Heritage in Pittsburgh unites advocates for preserving historic buildings, land

| Sunday, July 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Preserving historic buildings and land and keeping them economically viable require collective effort among developers, bureaucrats, advocates, bankers, historians and politicians.

Once a year, they get together to discuss the best way to do it.

“In the audience in any given setting, you'll have transportation people, preservationists, archaeologists, land-use planners, local government officials,” said Joe Baker, an archaeologist at PennDOT in Harrisburg and an organizer of the four-day, annual Statewide Conference on Heritage, which begins on Tuesday in the Omni William Penn, Downtown.

“They all talk with each other and learn about each other's business. We all learn a lot from each other.”

The conference, sponsored by PennDOT and Preservation Pennsylvania, hasn't come to Pittsburgh since 1996. Yet Western Pennsylvania for years led the way in reusing historic sites and finding ways to make them sustainable, economically and environmentally, advocates say.

“Pittsburgh knows how to do this. Hopefully, we can impart that to these visitors,” said Sherris Moreira, director of marketing and tourism for Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area in Homestead.

Moreira will help lead a tour of the Carrie Blast Furnace complex on Wednesday and present a workshop on Friday on the economics of heritage tourism.

“We're showing people how to take a place they have, like a church or an industrial site or cultural area, and come up with a fundraising stream for it,” she said.

Organizers expect more than 300 participants, said Jennifer Horn, program director for Preservation Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. Many of the workshops will focus on the rivers, including how to use them, the historic bridges that cross them and industry that once lined them for recreation and other purposes.

“We'll use them as case studies, looking at how it came together, any regulatory issues they encountered,” Horn said.

Western Pennsylvania is celebrating and learning to embrace the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail that follows rivers from Cumberland, Md., to Downtown Pittsburgh, a classic example of what the conference will discuss.

Debra Frawley, green-ways coordinator for the Oil City-based Council on Greenways and Trails, will speak on Thursday about efforts to finish a trail along the Allegheny River and other waterways that will connect Pittsburgh with Erie.

“We're trying to help each municipality along the way become trail towns like you see on the Great Allegheny Passage,” Frawley said. “These trails aren't just for recreation. They can be an economic engine for the area.”

She brings together trail advocates with conservation groups that can help preserve land for the trail, and government agencies such as PennDOT that help with funding and planning.

People interested in using historic buildings to make money can get funding from the government through tax credits. Developers used them for Penn Brewery and Heinz Lofts, both in the North Side, the Cork Factory in the Strip District, the William Penn Hotel, Downtown, and other notable buildings, said Bonnie Wilkinson Mark, a principal at Delta Development Group in Mechanicsburg.

A former official with the state Historical and Museum Commission, Wilkinson Mark will help moderate a program on Tuesday that will teach people how to apply for credits. Presenters will discuss a new state historic preservation tax credit.

Since 1978, federal tax credits have spurred more than $4.2 billion in private investment in Pennsylvania, she said.

David Conti is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or

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