ORA receives $20,000 grant to assess historic buildings

From staff reports

The Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism has received a $20,000 Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Keystone Historic Preservation planning grant to assess nonprofit-owned historic buildings with rental potential in the region.

Jennifer Burden, the ORA’s heritage program manager, said the idea for this project began in January 2020 during an ORA-sponsored town hall meeting led by Partners for Sacred Spaces.

About 70 people attended that meeting to discuss how to address preserving the region’s historic houses of worship.

“The best-received idea was to find new uses for spaces within existing buildings that could be available for short- or long-term rent, thus providing new sources of income,” Burden said. “Many of the attendees asked how many buildings like this there are in the region. Since no one could fully answer that question, ORA recommended that a cultural resource survey would be the most efficient way to make that determination,” she added.

The Alliance applied for the grant in the spring and learned of the award June 1.

The ORA will hire a consultant to complete a survey of about 100 historic buildings within the Oil Region National Heritage Area that are owned by nonprofit organizations that have the capacity to take on rental opportunities. The survey data will then be marketed to groups looking for short- and long-term rental spaces.

The overall goal of the project is to bring new sources of income to nonprofit organizations so they may be able to afford to preserve historically and culturally significant buildings within the Oil Region National Heritage Area.

The project will likely start in early 2023, Burden said.

Three other organizations within Venango County also received Keystone grants this cycle.

Historic Franklin Preservation Association received $30,000 for its renovation project on the old Lutheran church in Franklin, the Venango County Economic Development Authority received $100,000 for Cornplanter Square, formerly the Oil City National Bank building, and the Oil City Civic Center received more than $24,000 for the National Transit Building.