Conference focuses on Pittsburgh's renewal

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This year's state Heritage Conference will bring preservationists, environmentalists and transportation officials together in Pittsburgh for four days starting Tuesday.

Based at the William Penn Hotel, Downtown, the conference will highlight this city's revitalization and industrial heritage.

The conference is held for field professionals and the general public. Some tours are sold out, but anyone may register for the rest of the event. Registration opens at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday at the hotel. The full rate is $135; for any half-day, it is $35; for any full day, $65.

Three evening sessions begin with Tuesday's unveiling of the Young Preservation Association's annual top 10 preservation opportunities in the region. It's from 6 to 9 p.m. at Wigle Whiskey, 2401 Smallman St.

A Gateway Clipper cruise Thursday evening at sunset will focus on bridges, and the event ends with a reception at the Heinz History Center on Friday evening. Daytime session topics include Marcellus Shale, historic tax credits, the region's archaeological sites, its 19th-century parks and metal truss bridges.

For a complete list and more details visit

In 2008, the Heritage Conference was held for the first time as a combination of previously separate ones -- a transportation conference on historic byways, Preservation Pennsylvania's annual conference and a conference on the states's 14 heritage areas.

"This one brings all these audiences together," said Jennifer Horn, program director for Preservation Pennsylvania and one of the event planners. "It came out of the challenge to preserve historic resources in the face of development pressure that, in a lot of cases, is also prompted by transportation projects."

She said the challenges are to protect historic properties while keeping them in the mix of revitalization efforts and to plan new infrastructure with respect for historic resources such as bridges, historic ruins and landmark buildings.

"We feel that preservation and transportation don't need to be in conflict," she said. "In fact, by sharing best practices and working through solutions, transportation can help promote livable downtowns" while helping to discover archaeological sites and preserve historic resources.

These collaborations happen regularly, said Jamie Legenos, a spokesman at the state Department of Transportation, which has its own cultural resources program and an environmental quality assurance division.

"These conferences provide an avenue in which different groups, whether grassroots, nonprofits or governments, can get in a room to discuss what they're working on and hear what we're working on," she said. The combined conference "gives more people the opportunity for partnership."

"Just to visit the sites you have to use our roadway network. Our goal is to coordinate with groups to make sure" roads fit into their preservation initiatives.

Joe Baker, an archaeologist with PennDOT's cultural resource management program who planned the event with Ms. Horn, said transportation departments nationwide have been more sensitive about the impact their infrastructure can have on heritage sites and landmarks.

"The joke back in the bad old days, before the 1980s, was that you designed a new highway by laying a ruler on the map," he said. "Those kinds of designs were sometimes incredibly destructive to all sorts of resources. PennDOT began to do better and more extensive heritage and environmental work in 1980s" largely to satisfy environmental protection standards.

"It does introduce complexity into our design, and the issues can be not easy to solve," he said. "But given that we try to keep the interests of heritage tourism in mind," such as the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area, which has multiple sites in the Mon Valley, "you'd have to say, heck yes, it's paid off."

Several local examples in which PennDOT diverted road projects to spare heritage sites include the former St. Nicholas Church on Route 28. It was a historic landmark, proposed as an immigration museum, before the diocese won a legal fight and demolished it.

PennDOT's work on Route 28 also accommodated an extensive archaeological expedition at the former Thomas Carlin's Sons Co. foundry. The painting of the Smithfield Street Bridge and the relocation of hundreds of bodies in a cemetery during construction of Parkway North were other examples of PennDOT's work with heritage organizations, he said.

Besides Preservation Pennsylvania and PennDOT, conference partners are the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Heritage PA, a coalition of heritage areas throughout the state; the Federal Highway Administration; and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

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Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at


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